St. John Parish in mourning

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 15, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / May 15, 1999

RESERVE – At the triple-funeral service Wednesday in St. Peter’s CatholicChurch, memories of Arto and Juanita Marse and Darnella Cambre filled the sanctuary.

Outside, LaPlace and Reserve fire department squads placed an archway of ladder trucks under which the three hearses passed on their way to the church’s historic cemetery, while a double row of volunteer firefighters paid their respects.

It was yet another in the long procession of funerals which continued to numb the St. John the Baptist Parish community in the aftermath of theMother’s Day bus crash in New Orleans which killed 21 St. John Parishresidents, mostly elderly.

Three white-draped caskets were set along the center aisle of St. Peter’sWednesday morning just after 10 a.m.The Rev. Patrick Sanders comforted the capacity-filled church by quotingfrom the Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God;have faith in Me.”Arto “George” Marse Jr, 74, a former Reserve VFD chief, was remembered for his life of public service and his willing ministry, delivering flowers to patients at River Parishes Hospital from Chateau de Fleur while visiting friends.

“Most of what he enjoyed in life was serving his community,” Sanders said.

In addition, his devotion to the Church was another telling point to his character.

Juanita “Nite” Marse, 73, was remembered as a tough disciplinarian to their children, as well as being honest and of high integrity, dedicated to the Rosary.

Darnella Cambre, 76, was likewise recalled for her deepened devotion to the Church, especially following the death of her husband, Jean Daniel Cambre, also a past Reserve VFD firefighter.

Quiet mourning and unashamed tears replicated themselves across St. JohnParish at funerals and wake services, continuing throughout the week, as most of those who perished in Sunday’s accident were interred.

With the tolling of St. Peter’s bells, Reserve and LaPlace appeared to holdtheir collective breath, listening and sharing in the community’s grief.

Meanwhile, the investigation continued in New Orleans as to the exact cause of the Sunday morning accident. Federal investigators from theNational Transportation Safety Board examined the bus itself, driver Frank Bedell’s medical history and the laws and loopholes which allowed Bedell behind the bus’s wheel Sunday morning.

Bedell was reported rushed to West Jefferson Medical Center on the night before his last bus trip, suffering from extremely low blood pressure.

Nevertheless, he was released at 11 p.m. and, by 7 a.m., was picking up hispassengers at Delchamp’s parking lot in LaPlace.

Late reports indicted Bedell had been arrested in 1977 for possession of three marijuana cigarettes and was fired twice for alleged drug use.

Bedell has not yet been interviewed by investigators, as he remains in critical condition at Charity Hospital.

NTSB investigators confirmed Thursday Bedell had traces of marijuana in his system at the time of Sunday’s crash, but did not indicate that was the cause, or even a contributing factor, in the crash itself.

Just after 9 a.m., the bus, driver and its 42 passengers veered offInterstate 610 in City Park with half its passengers killed on the spot.

At Place Du Bourg this week, where eight residents were remembered by a row of roses in vases near the front desk, people huddled in their apartments together or in tiny groups in the lobby, still in shock.

A total of 13 survivors were still hospitalized as of press time, including four in critical condition at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, including Bedell.

On Tuesday, survivor Anna Battard, 71, of Reserve, spoke from her River Parishes Hospital bed to relate her first-person account. One second, thegroup were laughing, talking and excited about their day trip to Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis. The cupcakes and bingo cards were about to bebroken out to while away the time.

In the next second, electrical sparks were flying, people were being crushed in wreckage and darkness fell.

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