In Memory on Mother’s Day

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 8, 2010

By David Vitrano


GARYVILLE – As mothers across the country are celebrated tomorrow, many citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish will be commemorating something far less joyful. Eleven years ago tomorrow, a bus carrying mostly elderly residents of the parish veered off Interstate 610 over City Park in New Orleans. Twenty-two of them were killed, and those who survived were left to replay that nightmare scenario over and over in their minds.

While nothing could compare to the horror of actually being aboard the bus that day, the lives of many in St. John were forever changed.

Yvette Oubre lost five relatives and neighbors. Her grandmother, Bellie Elfer, was killed instantly as the bus crashed into the park below. She also lost cousins Emily Ann Torres and Mildred Remondet and neighbors Dardanella Cambre and Juanita and Arto Marse. Fortunately, her aunt, Anna Battard, was one of 15 survivors.

“She was in the back of the bus,” said Oubre. “The ones in the front didn’t have a chance.”

Oubre recalled the day the little enclave in Reserve near the levee along West 17th and West 18th streets changed forever.

“Every year we went to the zoo for Mother’s Day,” she said. She remembered hearing about the crash while there though she was still unaware of the identities of the deceased.

According to Oubre, “We got back to LaPlace from the zoo, and there were news people everywhere.”

She said her family had left a plant on the doorstep of her grandmother’s home before they left that morning. When they returned and noticed the plant still there, her heart sank.

Although the days that followed are a bit of a blur for her, Oubre recalled spending days on end at funeral homes. She also remembered the way the community pulled together in the wake of the tragedy.

“It’s good to know that in your time of need everyone can pull together to help one another,” she said.

In the investigation into the accident, the driver was determined to have failed a drug test and was suffering from an ailment. He died just three months later.

While Oubre questioned why he continued to get behind the wheel when he knew of his condition, Oubre has somehow found a way to forgive him. “Deep down, God wants you to forgive everybody,” she said.

She has had to rely on her faith to get her past the incident in other ways, too. She now attributes the death of those community members to the will of God, as well. “I guess God had better plans for them.”

Maybe God had a plan for Oubre herself that day.

Although Oubre said she still finds it hard to pass the site of the accident, the experience has changed her outlook.

“Since then, Mother’s Day is a day we don’t take for granted,” she said. She has also learned to see May 9 in a different light since the birth of her godchild on that date three years ago.

Still she has made it her business to make sure those around her never forget what happened 11 years ago.

She has saved every newspaper clipping regarding the accident. She said recently her son, who was just 2 years old at the time of the wreck, got them out and read through them all.

“May 9 will forever be a day of remembrance,” she noted.