Monday, September 08, 2008

A Month On, "Great Sadness"... and Patient Endurance

To mark a month since the Sherman bus crash -- which killed 17 Texas pilgrims bound for the annual "Marian Days" in Missouri, injuring over 40 others -- a capacity congregation (led by some of the survivors) swelled Houston Cathedral yesterday for a diocesan Memorial Mass:
"There is great sadness in seeing their lives taken from us when they were in the very act of renewing their faith," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, head of the [Galveston-Houston] archdiocese.

Suffering, he said, is a mystery that's hard to explain.

A month after the crash, friends and family of the victims were trying to recover from the loss, each in their own way.

Scott Tran's wife, 29-year-old Vivica Nguyen, was among the casualties. Tran, who was also on board, is still healing from his own injuries, including several broken ribs. He leaned forward, supporting himself on the pew, as friends came by to shake his hand after the service.

"This day I had to be strong, but I still hurt," he said.

Chi-Chi Le and his sister, Yen-Chi Le, turned to activism to help prevent future accidents such as the bus crash that killed their mother, 62-year-old Catherine Tuong So Lam.

The siblings circulated a petition at Sunday's memorial, urging support for a bill that would require buses to install seat belts and safety glass. They plan to go to Washington this month to testify about the crash before a Senate committee.

Chi-Chi Le said he and his sister were pursuing legislation instead of a lawsuit in the hopes of making a broader impact on bus safety.

"There's no amount of money that will bring my family back," he said. "If something positive can come out of it — accidents will happen, but maybe with seat belts and safety glass, they won't turn out this way."...

Boi Nguyen's son, 60-year-old Han Nguyen, said the services were taking a heavy emotional toll.

"I'm very shocked and very emotional," he said. "We cried a lot of tears."

His emotions are too raw now to withstand another memorial, he said.

"This is the last one for me," he said. "I need to normalize my life."

After the service, mourners clustered around the portraits at the front of the church, each one lit by a small candle below. When the crowd thinned, Han Nguyen took down his father's picture, tucked it under his arm and blew out the candle.
Meanwhile, today's Chronicle leads with the story of one injured family's continuing struggle -- it's worth reading in full, but here's the start...
Leaving his wife behind is not easy. The brain scan that persuaded doctors to keep his son for a few more days makes it even harder.

Thiep Bui maneuvers out of his wheelchair and steadies himself with a walker. Pushing off with his good leg, he scoots back-first into the middle row of seats in his brother's Dodge Caravan. He props his swollen right leg on a foam block and looks out the tinted window, back toward the hospital where his loved ones are staying on. He waves to the small group of relatives gathered on the sidewalk. The van rolls forward.

Bui had been looking forward to this day. He and his 15-year-old son, Matthew, were supposed to be discharged together from the Dallas rehabilitation center where they were learning to walk again.

Bui, his wife, and their three children were among dozens injured when their bus rolled down a Sherman embankment on Aug. 8. Seventeen passengers died. All were Vietnamese Catholics, on their way from Houston to a religious festival in Missouri.

Bui's right side was crushed, breaking the bones in his leg, knee, hip and arm. His wife, Thuy Tran, spent weeks in intensive care with a collapsed lung and damaged liver, unconscious from a blow to her head, unable to breathe or eat unaided. Matthew struggled with short-term memory loss, double vision and dizziness from a head injury.

Bui's two youngest children, 9-year-old James and 12-year-old Katherine, escaped with the mildest injuries — a separated shoulder for Katherine, scrapes and bruises for James. They started the school year without their parents. Their grandmother put them on the school bus.
PHOTO: Eric Kayne/Houston Chronicle