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Bus Crash Gave Scouts Unexpected Lesson on Tragedy

Times Staff Writer

Art Perea joined the Boy Scouts of America Explorer Program to learn about law enforcement. But the 17-year-old from La Mesa never expected to experience the traumatic side of the job the way he did Friday when he and 17 fellow Scouts and advisers from San Diego County were among the first to arrive at the tragic tour bus accident near Bridgeport, Calif.

On a trip to Sparks, Nev., for the Western Regional Law Enforcement Explorer’s Conference, the Scouts arrived on the scene minutes after the tour bus plunged off of a mountain highway and landed in the icy Walker River, killing 18 passengers, injuring 22 others and leaving one missing.

“It was a really gruesome accident,” Perea said. “You could see skid marks for several hundred feet and about one-fourth of the bus was still in the water.”

Despite the magnitude of the accident, Perea said that all of the explorers, who range from 15 to 20 years old, did what their training had prepared them for.

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“Once the adrenalin got going, it was automatic,” he said.

The young men and women took over tasks varying from traffic control to administering first aid. They also helped extract victims from the bus and helped get them onto stretchers and into helicopters.

Most importantly, the youths helped console the elderly passengers who were returning to Santa Monica after a gambling excursion in Nevada.

“We talked to them, and just stood by them, comforting them in any way we could, to prevent them from going into further shock,” Perea said.

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Sheriff’s Deputy Norma Nares-Edmonson, an adviser on the Scout trip, said that she was concerned about the youths who witnessed people dying.

“Many of these kids had never seen a dead body before,” she said. “Watching people expire in front of them was making death a reality.”

Nonetheless, Nares-Edmonson said that she was proud of the professionalism that the explorers showed at the scene.

After helping out, the explorers continued their trip to Sparks.

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“We still had a two-hour drive ahead of us and the kids were becoming depressed. We (the advisers) wanted them to know that if they needed to talk to us, we were there,” Nares-Edmonson said. On Saturday, the Scouts and advisers got together to talk about the incident.

Perea said that he doesn’t foresee any long-term psychological effects on any of the explorers.

“The incident strengthened my feelings about going into law enforcement,” the senior from Helix High School said. “It was so good actually being able to help, as opposed to the ‘looky-loos’ who pulled up lawn chairs and watched this going on.”


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