Driver dies, leaving crash questions unanswered

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 4, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / August 4, 1999

NEW ORLEANS – Questions will forever remain unanswered in the Mother’s Day bus accident which claimed the lives of 22 passengers, nearly all from St. John the Baptist Parish.Frank Bedell, 46, the driver of the bus, died Sunday from a heart attack at his home in Algiers.

Bedell was the target of the New Orleans Police investigation into the accident, his health problems having raised questions about his fitness to drive at all. A second investigation by the National Transportation SafetyBoard was also under way.

A Place DuBourg resident who sustained facial and rib injuries from the accident, but who asked not to be identified, said Tuesday, “I sure didn’t want him to die, and I’m sure he didn’t want to wreck the bus. But heshould not have been driving.”The female passenger said she had been seated in the middle of the bus, at a window, at the time of the accident. “They pulled me out and put me onthe ground and I don’t remember nothing after that.”She continued, “I have nothing against him, for sure.”New Orleans attorney Stephen Rue, part of an attorney team which includes Danny Becnel Jr. of Reserve, Randy Roussell and J. Robert Ates,said, “We believe Mr. Bedell’s death from his heart condition, less thanthree months following the accident and not from injuries sustained in the accident, provides the ultimate proof of our case.”On May 9, Bedell was driving a Custom Bus Charters bus, headed for Casino Magic. He had picked up 43 passengers, most of them from Place DuBourgApartments in LaPlace and several from Reserve.

The bus veered off Interstate 610 in City Park near the Wisner overpass.

Bedell and several passengers were ejected upon impact with a concrete embankment.

The night prior to the accident, Bedell had gone to West Jefferson Medical Center for treatment of dehydration and low blood pressure. According toRue, Bedell had also taken marijuana two to six hours prior to the accident and he also had Benadryl in his system.

“Custom Bus Charter knew or should have known of his medical condition,” Rue said.

Following the accident, Bedell was in critical condition at Charity Hospital in New Orleans for weeks. He was released from Charity on June2, received further treatment at Memorial Medical Center, then went home two weeks ago.

Rue said neither his team, nor the New Orleans Police Department apparently interviewed Bedell on the accident.

“I’m disappointed that the NOPD didn’t compel a statement. It’sunconscionable, under the circumstances. He never gave any swornstatement and we never had a chance to cross-examine him,” he said.

A 600-page report was due to be released by the New Orleans Police Department yesterday on the accident. Rue said the NOPD was consideringfiling charges against Bedell, including driving while intoxicated, negligent homicide and reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

Lawsuits were almost immediately filed after the crash, at least 20 in all, Rue said, in U.S. Civil District Court. Listed as defendants were thebus company, Casino Magic and Bedell. Now, Bedell’s estate will besubstituted for Bedell. No hearing dates have been set.

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