Jerry Davich: Woman who walked away from crash still haunted by it 40 years later
Jerry Davich email@example.com September 13, 2012 10:42PM
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:55AM
Mary M. will never forget Oct. 31, 1971.
It’s the day she could have done something, anything, to help the child victims of a fatal church bus-freight train collision that just took place in Lake Station.
Instead, Mary continued on with her day, her errands, her life.
“I have spent all these years remembering that day, feeling guilty for not stopping or getting help or something,” she told me after reading last Sunday’s column.
Mary had just dropped off her daughter at church and was heading west on Central Avenue with her two young sons when she heard the speeding Penn Central train screeching to a halt.
“I looked over and saw the train pushing a large white object,” she recalled. “I didn’t see it as a bus.”
Her mind raced to the night before — Halloween trick-or-treating — and she assumed the incident was some sort of prank. Possibly teens who left an old truck on the railroad tracks for a thrill.
“I kept on driving to my sister’s house and didn’t return home for several hours,” she said. “When I returned home, I was told about the train crash. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know what I had been looking at hours before.”
At that bus-train crash, four girls lost their lives and several other children were injured. First responders didn’t arrive until 30 minutes or so later. Mary could have been the first responder at the grisly scene.
“I think sometimes I wasn’t supposed to see the horror of the train wreck, or that my small children didn’t need to see it,” she said in hindsight.
“That day has always been on my mind, and I speak of it often trying to get answers as to how the mind works,” she added. “I know what my mind saw and I know what was really there, and they are two different images.”
This unforgettable scenario reminds me of the haunting 1956 book of fiction titled “The Fall,” by the philosophical author Albert Camus. Set in Amsterdam, the book is comprised of series of monologues by the character Jean-Baptiste Clamence.
In one story, Clamence walks past a woman dressed in black leaning over the edge of a bridge. He pauses for just a second to inquire or offer help, but then continues on.
Later, a short distance away, he hears the obvious sound of the woman’s body hitting the water under the bridge. Still, he does nothing and continues on with his night, his errand, his life.
“Then, slowly, in the rain, I went away. I told no one,” Clamence says in the book.
The incident never left him. It haunted him for years. It also taught him a lesson about himself and, to a larger degree, humankind.
“This has been a lesson to me, to always rethink what I think I know,” Mary noted.
“Not everyone from this small town just walked away as if it never happened. It has forever affected me, in just a different way than those closely involved. My heart goes out to all the families involved in that tragic day, and I am so sorry I didn’t help in some way.
“I will have to live with that.”
Old Lincoln Highway turns 100
This Sunday at noon, the Merrillville/Ross Township Historical Society will hold its September meeting and here’s why you may want to attend.
That meeting will include the planning for the Oct. 28 “kick-off” open house for the 2013 year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Old Lincoln Highway. That highway, which cuts through Northwest Indiana, was the first coast-to-coast improved road across the United States.
Originally built in 1913 at 3,389 miles, to roughly follow the Great Sauk Trail, the original section of Lincoln Highway in Merrillville is now called 73rd Avenue.
Today, the Merrillville/Ross Township Veterans Memorial Park, the Merrillville Cemetery, and Merrillville School (now home to the museum, located at 13 W. 73rd Ave.) are located along that historic route.
For more information, contact Alice Smedstad at 663-2594 or visit www.merrillvillehistory.org.
Cross burning feedback
My Thursday column on the charred, wooden cross that was placed on a black famiiy’s lawn in Portage attracted a lot of reader feedback. Here are two notable responses.
“Perhaps this is a hate crime, one perpetrated by blacks as retribution for leaving a black neighborhood,” said Debbie F. “It is possible that one of their own is angry at them for becoming an ‘Oreo,’ as if rejection of ghetto behaviors or success means you’re white.”
And this from Larry Baas, director of Community Research and Service Center at Valparaiso University, which tracks and reports bias-motivated incidents in Northwest Indiana, at nwibiasincidents.org.
“The data is based on an analysis of newspaper reports, and each incident is plotted on a map with a brief summary, the type of incident, the severity, and a link to the article,” he explained. “We do this in an effort to inform the public that a wide variety of such incidents occur in this community. Note, also, that we distinguish — and define — bias incidents and hate crimes.”
Department of Corrections
My recent column profile on Libertarian candidate for Indiana governor Rupert Boneham included a bone-headed mistake by me.
I wrote, “But only one-eighth of them know anything about the Libertarian Party, its tenants or principles.”
“Tenants” was the wrong word, of course. The correct word should be “tenets.”
“Tenants, of course, are renters. Tenets are doctrines and principles. The word comes into English from the Latin verb meaning ‘he holds,’” explained Valparaiso University professor Arvid “Gus” Sponberg, who also caught my glaring error.
“I take the time to write about this because I hear tenants instead of tenets in everyday speech. I think we’re losing the distinction,” he added. “I think it’s an important distinction to keep, and newspapers and other channels of important communication should strive to do so.”
I agree, Gus. Thanks for catching it.
Happy birthday Matilda
Following in the notable steps of several dignitaries, including President Obama and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, I want to wish a happy birthday to Matilda Mitchell.
The East Chicago great-grandmother turns 80 today and, in comparison, it’s hard to imagine living that long — 30 more years for me, for instance. Wow, it reminds me of that old line, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.”
No doubt, and happy birthday, Matilda.