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At Seniors’ Residence, the Long Day Was Shrouded in Anxiety

Times Staff Writers

Cleo Boehle decided not to take the bus trip to Reno because a storage company was supposed to make a delivery to her apartment this week.

Dorothy Dandurand stayed home because she got sick at the last moment, but her husband went.

And Mary Adam, who usually enjoys such junkets, simply had a vague premonition. “I’m a Pisces,” she said in a strong Greek accent, “and my feelings say ‘don’t go.’ ”

So now they huddled together on a small, thinly padded wooden bench, wringing their hands, patting each other’s shoulders, waiting for the smallest shred of news about the two-dozen residents of their close-knit Santa Monica senior citizens’ complex who had ridden the ill-fated tourist bus that tumbled Friday morning into a treacherous river in a remote canyon in Northern California.

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‘Such a Sadness’

“I’ve lived here 16 years and we’ve never had such a sadness,” said Lorena Forbes, who often had gone on trips sponsored by the apartment complex until her health prevented her. “These people all mean so much to us.”

Throughout the day and into the night, anxiety was overwhelming inside the 13-story Santa Monica Towers, a 195-resident complex near Wilshire Boulevard and 6th Street. No one knew who had been killed, or injured, or was missing.

“We have no names--that’s what hurts so bad,” said Carolyn Newberry, a small, feisty woman whose eyes were ringed by wide, red circles.

The complex’s manager, Ida Quaif who had planned to make the trip until her doctor diagnosed her high blood pressure, said that between 26 and 28 residents of the complex and about a dozen other nearby Santa Monica residents made the trip.

Gather Solicitously

As news of the accident spread early Friday afternoon, many of the residents who wandered through the apartment complex’s small but cheerfully appointed lobby gathered solicitously with Dandurand. She was the only resident who had stayed behind while a spouse went on the $135, four-day trip.

Dandurand’s husband, Hank, had called on Tuesday, the day the tour bus left for Reno, to report that they had arrived late due to an unspecified mechanical breakdown, his wife said.

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“I was all packed to go,” she said tearfully, “but I was so sick I had to stay here.”

Television crews were pouring into the lobby, which is normally open only to residents but was now becoming a crowded media field. One, then two, then three reporters began focusing their attention on Dandurand, whose pallor of grief clashed against her green patterned silk pantsuit. One reporter asked if she had a picture of her husband, and she obligingly went up to her room and returned with one.

“Have they heard anything more?” she asked.

‘Think Good Thoughts’

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Boehle reached over and took Dandurand’s hand and cradled it in her arm.

“Just think good thoughts,” Boehle said gently. “Positive thoughts.”

Some residents said they learned of the accident from television or radio reports.

“I had a lot of friends on the trip,” Boehle said. “I was watching Channel 2 and they broke in and said there were sixt. . . . " Then tears came and her voice broke.

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Word began racing through the lobby after one of the crash survivors, Valerie Webb, telephoned to say that she had escaped injury but that her husband, Buster, was in a hospital.

It appeared likely that the names of the survivors would come first, leaving residents to use a process of elimination to determine whether their friends had been killed or were missing.

Worried About Friends

Residents like Adam worried about specific friends they knew were on the bus.

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“My very dear friend Alma Chamart, a French lady--we always room together on these trips, we speak French together--she said, ‘Mary, come on,’ ” Adam said. “I don’t never miss a trip except for this one--can you imagine that?”

“We’re just like one big family,” Newberry added. “We think of each other when somebody has a problem.”

The Rev. Don Shelby, the pastor of a nearby Methodist church, said: “When one person on a floor there dies, it affects everybody, so this is going to be tough. There’s going to be a lot of griefwork.”

Even as the afternoon progressed, there were some who had not heard the news.

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“What happened?” said one man, walking into the lobby and observing the grief.

“The bus!” Adam said, flipping her outstretched palms up and then over and down.

Husband Is Alive

Finally, a telephone call came. Hank Dandurand was alive.

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His wife was upstairs, so Newberry broke the news to the residents in the lobby.

“Hank’s in the hospital,” she said. “But he’s going to be OK.”

Cleo Boehle looked up at Newberry from a stuffed chair. Then she broke down sobbing.

“I’m so happy he’s OK,” she said.

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Reporters looked around for Dandurand.

“She’s upstairs and she’s not coming down,” Newberry said sternly. “She’s gone through hell.”

Later, Dandurand was able to speak briefly to her husband by telephone.

“He said he never knew anything after the bus hit,” she said afterward. “He woke up in the hospital and the doctor says he has a broken shoulder, crushed ribs and they’re checking his spleen.

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‘Always Think Worst’

“I’m awfully tired. Mostly tired of talking about it,” she said. “You always think the worst, but gradually I calmed down.”

A passer-by saw Adam and told her of Dandurand’s good news. Adam grinned and crossed herself animatedly and clenched both fists triumphantly.

But then she thought about her friend, Alma, and a glimmer of salvation in the twilight faded into what would become a long night of waiting.

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