Even the most tragic situations can yield shining moments of humanity.
A tri-tip barbecue sponsored by the Oregon State Police Association celebrated one example of people helping strangers in the aftermath of tragedy. The police association honored a La Grande dealership – Legacy Ford — for helping victims of a deadly bus crash get home.
The crash happened Dec. 30 when a Mi Joo tour company bus slipped off icy Interstate 84 near Deadman Pass. The bus burst through a guardrail and tumbled down a 200-foot ravine, killing nine. Many of the victims, most of them Korean, went to Pendleton’s St. Anthony Hospital or other area medical centers.
When Mi Joo didn’t send transportation for the stranded passengers, OSP, Red Cross and other agencies handling the disaster needed to find some way to get the victims home to Canada or Seattle.
That’s where Roger Barnes and Chris Huxoll came in. Huxoll is sales manager at Legacy and Barnes is new vehicle manager. During a conversation about the crash, the men tried to imagine what it might be like for victims to have to board another bus after such a horrific experience.
“We just knew we wouldn’t want to get on another bus,” Barnes said.
They called OSP and Red Cross and offered Legacy’s services to chauffeur victims to their doorsteps in SUVs and got a mass sigh of relief in answer.
“We put together a convoy of vehicles,” Barnes said.
In the meantime, OSP officers hustled to reconnect the victims with their passports and other belongings collected from the crash site.
The Red Cross worked with a Korean interpreter to figure out where each victim lived.
On the day after New Year’s, six SUVs with four-wheel drive pulled up in front of the Red Lion Hotel to collect a special load of passengers.
Many of the victims wore casts. Some had to keep limbs elevated. Each vehicle carried from two to four passengers.
Barnes said not all the drivers had valid passports, so they relayed with other drivers near the border.
“They switched with people who live near the border who had current passports,” Barnes said. “We also communicated with Canadian and Korean Consulates to make sure we weren’t hung up at the border for a long time.”
The next day, Legacy sent four additional vehicles to the Red Lion to transport other victims to the Seattle area.
OSP Senior Trooper Mark Banks presented Barnes, Huxoll and company owners Josh Dykes and Tony Grover with plaques of thanks Friday during the barbecue at Hodgen’s Distributing.
“It was amazing what you guys did,” Banks said. “You didn’t even pat yourself on the back. You came in and solved a problem and quickly slipped out.”
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.