Monday, November 3, 2014

Looking back: the bus passenger column

(This is a look back at a column I did for The Indianapolis Star, posted here as part of a class discussion on opinion writing - jcs)

Bus drivers to remember a favorite passenger -- and friend

By John Strauss
The Indianapolis Star
May 2, 2003
Maude Bryant stood at a bus stop on East Washington Street, about to die.

Amid all the other traffic on that busy street, a speeding Chevy Blazer was headed her way.

She held a box of chicken from the restaurant across the street. She had a monthly bus pass. She probably had a pack of gum to give her bus driver, because that's what she liked to do.

It was just before 2 p.m. on Saturday.

What happened next, you may have seen in the news -- the 76-year-old woman run down on the sidewalk, and the SUV driver charged with reckless homicide and causing a traffic death while intoxicated.

This is about what happened before Saturday.

Maude was her name, but everybody called her Sam. She had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. You could call that a deficiency, but friends saw instead the smile and enthusiasm of a happy child.

Some of her best friends were city bus drivers. She rode the bus just to have something to do sometimes, and they looked after her.

When Sam had trouble handling her money, driver Jeannie Kemerly stepped in. She organized things and put Sam on a budget, so she could live on her own and not have to go to an institution.

Sam became an honorary member of the family. Because Kemerly's three daughters had boys' nicknames -- Charlie, Oscar and George -- she wanted one, too. And that's how she became Sam.

When Kemerly died last year, one of her daughters, Cheryl Yarnell, took over as unofficial guardian, helping Sam remain independent.

On Thanksgiving and Easter, Sam could usually be found at the home of another IndyGo driver, Rhuperdia Chandler.

"I try to help everybody, but I loved Sam. She was family," Chandler said. "She loved everybody. I've never known anybody like her before."

Chandler heard about the crash while getting ready for church Sunday morning. IndyGo called her at home because police were contacting Sam's family of bus drivers trying to find the woman's real relatives.

She does have a brother and a sister. But both are in other cities and in poor health. So bus drivers were pitching in for a memorial service today.

It's at Shirley Brothers Irving Hill Chapel, 5377 E. Washington St. Visitation is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with a memorial service at 7.

That's only a block from the spot where Sam died. Friends have put up some red and pink artificial flowers and a toy mouse on a utility pole.

Sam had been standing next to the pole, waiting for her bus. The impact from the Blazer knocked her 60 feet. The thought of that made it hard for Chandler to sleep this week. More than anything, she hoped that Sam didn't suffer. Maybe, she hoped, her friend never even saw the truck.

Police said the Blazer was traveling at least 51 mph -- 75 feet per second.

It went onto the sidewalk just a few feet before the pole. In other words, everything happened in a split second.

In a cloud with no silver lining, the friends of Sam had to settle for this:

She lived a good life. Then, thank God, it ended before she knew it.

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