In­side: More cov­er­age; how to help

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Hu­ber, El­iz­a­beth Fin­dell and Katie Hall mhu­ber@ac­n­news­pa­pers.com efind­ell@states­man.com khall@states­man.com

Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter mem­bers try to carry on af­ter days of heart­break.

The weekly Thurs­day fel­low­ship lun­cheon at the Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter took on a somber tone this week.

Many mem­bers ar­rived be­fore noon with casse­role dishes and cakes, hop­ing to en­joy a meal and laugh­ter af­ter two days of heart­break and un­cer­tainty. They didn’t know whether their friends and rel­a­tives would come back whole af­ter a bus crash in Biloxi, Miss., killed four peo­ple and sent 35 to the hos­pi­tal.

A train struck the tour bus, whose 49 pas­sen­gers in­cluded at least 27 from Bas­trop County, when the bus be­came stuck on a rail­road cross­ing on the way to a Biloxi casino. The four who died were Lock­hart cou­ple Ken­neth and Peggy Hoff­man, 82 and 73; Sealy res­i­dent Clin­ton Havran, 72; and Deb­o­rah Orr, the ac­tiv­i­ties di­rec­tor at the se­nior cen­ter.

“She put some spirit in this place,” se­nior cen­ter mem­ber Ber­nadette Ly­cken said of Orr. “I’m mad at God to take her. I’d be glad to go in­stead.”

Ge­or­gia Storey, spokes­woman for Singing River Health Sys­tem, whose hos­pi­tals took 17 pa­tients, said all but five had been re­leased as of Thurs­day af­ter­noon. Those five are all in sta­ble con­di­tion, she said. She added that the hos­pi­tals are try­ing to keep fam­i­lies com­fort­able and help the pa­tients track down their be­long­ings. An­other hos­pi­tal that re­ceived pa­tients from the crash didn’t re­turn calls about their con­di­tions.

Eight sur­vivors of the crash re­turned to Bas­trop on Wed­nes­day night, look­ing weary but re­lieved as they stepped off an­other bus to ap­plause.

They in­cluded Austin res­i­dent Jus­tine Ny­gren, who said she was one of the first to make it off the bus in Biloxi be­fore the train struck it. She re­turned home to a hug from Cliff Wright, who said his wife, Carol Wright, 70, is still in in­ten­sive care in a Mis­sis­sippi hos­pi­tal with eight bro­ken ribs.

“She was on the bus try­ing to get peo­ple off when the train hit,” Cliff Wright said. “With the older folks, they can’t just jump.”

He planned to drive to see his wife Thurs­day, once her son ar­rived to drive with him.

Friends Geral­dine Castillo and Pat Malerk also turned out to give hugs to the bus pas­sen­gers re­turn­ing home. They said they knew most of the peo­ple on the trip, in­clud­ing Orr, whom they de­scribed as bub­bly and full of fun.

“You could pick Debbie out of a crowd,” Malerk said. “She was al­ways wear­ing fun clothes and hats.”

Shortly be­fore the bus with the sur­vivors ar­rived, the fam­ily of vic­tims Ken­neth and Peggy Hoff­man re­leased a state­ment.

“Yes­ter­day, our fam­ily suf­fered a tragic loss, which is dif­fi­cult to fathom and hard to bear,” the Hoff­mans’ fam­ily said. “We lost two in­cred­i­ble peo­ple we were priv­i­leged to call mother and fa­ther, Maw­maw and Paw­paw, and more than that, our teach­ers, coaches, men­tors, and touch­stones.”

The Lock­hart school dis­trict, where Ken­neth and Peggy Hoff­man worked for years, shared the state­ment Wed­nes­day evening.

“We will miss his sweet, gen­tle soul and her steady level-head­ed­ness, which an­chored us in the tough­est storms,” the state­ment said. “We can­not un­der­stand what it means to be in this world with­out them, but we know they would have us con­tinue do­ing the very things they’ve al­ways taught us to do: love God and love one an­other.”

With many of the cen­ter’s mem­bers still in Mis­sis­sippi, Thurs­day’s lunch crowd at the se­nior cen­ter was smaller than usual, mem­bers said.

At scat­tered ta­bles, men and women played poker and canasta. Diane Gordon played soft pi­ano mu­sic. Bar­bara Ad­kins, the cen­ter’s pres­i­dent, handed out slips of pa­per with in­for­ma­tion on how to do­nate to the vic­tims. Two chap­lains ar­rived to of­fer coun­sel­ing.

“I haven’t slept in a cou­ple days,” Mary Ann Sei­del said. “I haven’t been able to eat. It’s hard and it’s never going to be the same.”

The trip to Mis­sis­sippi was meant to be an ex­cit­ing ex­cur­sion to visit casi­nos and his­tor­i­cal sites. The se­nior cen­ter or­ga­nizes trips reg­u­larly for mem­bers and oth­ers who want to par­tic­i­pate.

“I got on these trips reg­u­larly,” Sei­del said. “I won’t any­more.”

De­spite the pain, Ad­kins called the reg­u­lar lun­cheon nec­es­sary.

“It’s im­por­tant for ev­ery­body to be to­gether and fel­low­ship and to talk,” she said. “It’s good re­cov­ery for them, as well.”

PHO­TOS BY RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Ber­nadette Ly­cken (cen­ter) plays cards Thurs­day with her friends at the Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter, two days af­ter sev­eral mem­bers lost their lives when a char­ter bus was struck by a train in Biloxi, Miss. Mem­bers say that Deb­o­rah Orr, one of the crash vic­tims who also helped or­ga­nize the trip, would want all of them to keep laugh­ing and lov­ing each other. “She put some spirit in this place,” Ly­cken said of Orr.

Song Heath­man (left) hugs Mary Ann Sei­del, while both re­mem­ber their friend Deb­o­rah Orr, who lost her life on Tues­day in the char­ter bus crash.

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