By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — It was around 10 a.m., Sept. 28, and the pilgrims from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph who had traveled to Philadelphia for the pope’s visit were on their way back to Kansas City. The buses were traveling in pairs, and each pair was some miles distant from the others. Buses 1 and 2 were in the rear about an hour behind the others. They were 40 miles past Indianapolis, Ind.
The buses were equipped with a television and screens on the rear of each seat, and a number of the passengers on Bus #1 were engrossed in a movie. The movie was filled with explosions and weapon firing sounds, so when a bang followed by rumbling was heard, those sounds were thought to be part of the soundtrack or that the bus had driven over rumble strips on the roadway.
Bernardino Durando, Director of the diocesan Office of Family Life, and leader on bus #1, was working on his laptop and didn’t look up for a moment. When he did, he saw that they were veering toward the side of the road. Then he saw the semi-tractor trailer all too close — the bus swerved directly in front of the truck, and careened down an incline, headed right toward a large tree. When the bus swerved suddenly, the driver lost control of the steering wheel and was thrown from his seat onto the floor.
Durando’s 15 year old daughter, Miriam, was seated toward the bus’s front and watched the scene unfold in disbelief and fear. She thought the bus would hit the tree trunk and she was going to die. Then suddenly, she felt peace and calm wash over her. She told her father later that she knew God would take care of her and the others on the bus.
The bus missed the tree’s trunk, but took out a good sized low-hanging branch, which sheared off the bus’s front end and broke the windshield and door glass. The bus continued to roll for a short distance and came to a stop in the middle of a corn field. They later learned that a front tire had exploded, which caused the driver to lose control and swerve in front of the semi. Bits and pieces of the tire rained on the roadway. The rumbling they had heard was the wheel rolling on the pavement.
The semi’s driver had stopped his truck on the side of the road and raced to the bus to help. Durando, in shock, just reacted. He made his way to the bus driver, pulled broken glass off and helped him into his seat. He then covered the broken glass in the stairwell with a blanket to prevent the shards from cutting people as they exited the bus. Several men managed to force the door open and propped it to stay open.
Three nurses were passengers on the bus; they worked to check for injuries, and triaged several people who had been thrown from their seats, as well as keeping watch on a mom-to-be.
Their companion bus had stopped also and its passengers were helping people off the damaged bus, and a couple of teenaged boys clambered back on the bus to retrieve belongings and return them to their owners. Susan Hayes, administrative assistant for the diocesan Finance Office and mom of the two helpful teenaged boys, said when they saw the bus in front of them swerve, passengers of bus #2 “erupted in ‘Hail Mary, Full of Grace!’ It was almost a demand that Mary take care of them!”
She added that it was “such a relief to see everybody get off the bus.”
The semi driver said later that he didn’t know how he didn’t hit the bus. And the bus driver said he was thrown from his seat to the floor right after the tire exploded. He didn’t have a hand on the steering wheel. Someone was driving the bus, but it wasn’t him, he said.
The county sheriff and EMTs arrived within just a few minutes in response to emergency calls. The EMTs took three passengers to the nearest hospital for observation, and treatment of cuts and bruises. Later, the pregnant woman was taken also, to check on her unborn child. The child was fine. All of them were released after a short time.
The sheriff called around for another bus to take the stranded passengers to a nearby truck stop so they could relax, clean up and make use of restrooms. It took some time to find one, but eventually a school bus pulled up. The name of the school district on the side
of the bus said, “Eminence.”
The truck stop was just a few miles ahead. The passengers of both buses celebrated Mass at the truck stop to thank God for the rescue and for taking care of them. Msgr. Ralph Kaiser, pastor of the Church of the Santa Fe in Buckner traveling on bus #1 was the celebrant and Father Daniel Gill, Administrator of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Kansas City traveling on bus #2, concelebrated.
“It was the most beautiful Mass,” Durando recalled.
Although they arrived home hours after they expected, all those who traveled to Philadelphia made it home safely with memories they will never forget.