Sedan Can Really Take the Bumps : Old Olds Gets Credit After 14 Survive Plunge Into Pit

Times Staff Writer

Geneva White said that when she decided to drive home from a barbecue Monday night in her big, 18-year-old Oldsmobile sedan, it seemed as though everyone else at the party wanted a ride.

"They all decided to come with me," the 32-year-old Lynwood mother of three said from her bed at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon.

"We got in. Then, hell, everyone got in. There were 14 of us in that old Oldsmobile."

With her daughters Shana, 13, and Etoria, 3; son Teron, 6; niece Lakeisha White, 8; friends Vanessa Burns, 34, and Deborah Gaston, 34, and an assortment of young friends and relations--"I'm not sure who they all are, but there were 11 kids in there"--all tucked inside the 1971 Delta 98, White turned east on 135th Street in the Compton area and headed for her home in Lynwood.

Angry Words Exchanged

White said she was nearing McKinley Avenue, where a 70-foot-deep gravel pit flanks 135th Street, when three men in a red Mercury Capri pulled alongside.

Angry words were exchanged between the two groups, but White said she does not remember which side started the feud.

"I don't know why, but those men were angry," she recalled Wednesday. "Then all of a sudden, their car speeded up and cut into me.

"They banged into me, and my car started sort of squirming," she added. "All of a sudden I went through the rail and I was headed straight down that cliff. Everybody in the car was hollering. All 14 of us. . . .

"I thought I was dead," she said. "I thought we all were dead. But I held it steady--tried to drive it all the way down--and thank God, the car didn't turn over."

Vague Memory

White said she does not remember hitting the bottom of the gravel pit, or climbing out of the car. She said she vaguely recalls pulling some of the children from the car, and starting the long climb back up the side of the quarry, before passing out.

In what Compton police described as a "miracle," all 14 survived the violent plunge to the bottom of the pit, with most suffering only minor injuries. The "happy ending" was all the more surprising because no one was wearing a seat belt.

Investigators expressed little optimism that they would find the three men or the car that struck White's.

Burns was still hospitalized at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center on Wednesday with ankle and jaw fractures, and Gaston was still in fair condition at Harbor-UCLA with cuts and bruises, but most of the children had simply been treated and released.

White, who was undergoing treatment at Harbor-UCLA for a severely bruised shoulder and cuts suffered when she bit through her tongue and lip, told a reporter that it was "that good old car" of hers that saved their lives.

"You check out that Olds 98, honey," she said with a swollen grin. "It's a big car. And it's a strong one, too."

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