Mothers Day crash recalled five years later

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 7, 2004

By SUE ELLEN ROSS – Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – The last time Kat Powell saw ‘the ladies” at Place DuBourg Retirement Home, they were gathering to play Friday Night Bingo. They called out greetings as she passed by the community room. “Don’t forget, Kat, I need that haircut next Wednesday,” said one of them.

That was the last time the hair stylist saw this specific group of women alive.

Seven of them died, and another two residents were injured, in a Mother’s Day bus accident two days later. A total of 22 passengers from the tri-parish area perished in the morning crash on Interstate 610 in New Orleans on Sunday, May 9, 1999

New Orleans resident Frank Bedell, 46, was driving the bus for Custom Bus Charters near the City Park exit, when he abruptly turned from the inside eastbound lane to the outer rail near the St. Bernard Avenue exit. He had swerved to avoid a car that had cut in front of him, according to his testimony on police reports. The bus hit a roadside steel guard rail, tore through it, became airborne over a 10-ft. deep ravine, then struck the ravine’s concrete side. This crushed the front end of the bus. It came to a stop along the I-610 shoulder, leaving 22 people dead in the wake.

Bedell, along with 20 passengers, survived the crash. He was the only person wearing a seat belt. There were none available on the bus for any of the passengers.

All of the ladies from Place DuBourg were looking forward to the Mother’s Day trip to Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Many of their family members wanted to take them out on their special day, but they all declined – they wanted to be with their friends for the casino trip, according to Powell.

The retirement home residents were regular customers in Powell’s hair styling salon located at the retirement home. “They came into the shop on the (three) days I was open. They were all very active, always going somewhere,” she said.

Powell and her husband Mel were traveling to their summer home when they heard news of the accident on the radio. ” I told my husband what a coincidence it was, that the ladies had left that morning too.”

Powell then called Sister Marguerite, a former nun that was living at the retirement home. “I asked her not tell to me it was the ladies from Place DuBourg,” she said. “She started crying and said yes, it was.”

Details were not immediately available in the aftermath of the accident, with many of the survivors being transported to various hospitals in the area. Many families didn’t hear the fate of their loved ones until later that Sunday night.

“It was complete chaos,” said Powell. Along with the entire tri-parish community, she was in deep shock. Many community events were canceled, as the many funerals were planned.

“There are no words to describe it, I had just lost part of my family,” she added. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the ladies. I still grieve for them.”

The 22 passengers killed in the tragic bus accident were LaPlace residents Dorothy Richard, Agnes Agee, Rita Gaillard, Rose Streva, Lorina Rogers, Marion Mancuso, Dolly Sposito, Timothy Victor, Calvin Johnston, Olivia Humphries, Anna Johnson, Shirley Gauff, Emily Torres, and Aurora Rios; Reserve residents Juanita Marse, Arto Marse, Bellie Elfer, Darnella Cambre, Isma Keller, and Mildred Remondet; Edgard resident Florence Mathieu; and Kenner resident Jewel Williams.