Mother’s Day bus trip ends in disaster

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 12, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / May 12, 1999

LAPLACE – A group, mostly senior citizens from LaPlace and Reserve, ran headlong into tragedy Sunday morning when their casino excursion bus wrecked in New Orleans.

The Custom Bus Charters trip, organized by Shirley Gauff of LaPlace, made regular day trips to the casinos. This trip was headed for Casino Magic inBay St. Louis, Miss., and planned to return that evening.Gauff did not survive this trip. Twenty-one other passengers did notsurvive either.

This last bus excursion picked up passengers in the Delchamp’s parking lot Sunday at 7 a.m., headed up Interstate 10. One additional passenger waspicked up in Kenner and, just after 9 a.m., disaster struck.Exact cause of the accident remain uncertain, but the bus driven by Frank Bedell, 46, of New Orleans, abruptly veered from the inside eastbound lane to the outer rail near the St. Bernard Avenue exit. The story Bedell told authorities was that he was moving from the left to the center lane but veered to avoid a driver in a green car who had cut him off in traffic as he topped the Golf Drive overpass in City Park.

Bedell then swerved back to the right, crossed in front of the green car, drifted for 1,500 feet and struck a steel guard rail.

The bus ripped through the rail, flew over the 75-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep ravine which also serves as a golf cart path for the City Park golf course.

It then struck the ravine’s concrete side, crushed the front end and ejected passengers in front of it as it continued across and came to a stop along the I-610 shoulder. The green car’s driver has not yet come forth.Another theory is that Bedell was in poor health, suffering from diabetes, and that factor may have contributed to the accident.

Officials said Bedell would likely have flunked his physical examination for his commercial driver’s license renewal, due in November.

Bedell, the only person on the bus wearing a seat belt, survived the accident. He remains hospitalized in Charity Hospital, having undergonesurgery Monday.

There were no seat belts available to the passengers. Most of thefatalities were reportedly seated at the front of the bus, which was crushed on impact. Two of the passengers were reported decapitated.One valuable help to the accident investigation could be a “black box”- type device recovered from the bus by National Transportation Safety Board investigators. It is designed to provide electronic information aboutthe engine operation and could confirm one of the theories about the crash.

Of the 43 passengers on board, 22 were confirmed dead Monday afternoon during a press conference hosted by New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.

Morial called emergency response “outstanding,” and he thanked all involved in the traumatic efforts which followed, from professional fire and police crews to passing motorists who stopped to assist.

Those killed are: Dorothy Richard, 74, LaPlace Agnes Agee, 73, LaPlace Florence Mathieu, 82, Edgard Rita Gaillard, 73, LaPlace Rose Streva, 80, LaPlace Lorina Rogers, 91, LaPlace Marion Mancuso, 81, LaPlace Dolly Sposito, 60, LaPlace Juanita Marse, 73, Reserve Timothy Victor, 45, LaPlace Arto Marse, 74, Reserve Calvin Johnston, 70, LaPlace Olivia Humphries, 92, LaPlace Bellie Elfer, 84, Reserve Anna Johnston, 75, LaPlace Shirley Gauff, 62, LaPlace Darnella Cambre, 76, Reserve Emily A. Torres, 65, LaPlaceIsma Keller, 79, Reserve Jewel Williams, 50, Kenner Aurora Rios, 75, LaPlace Mildred Remondet, 70, Reserve .

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