Anniversary 1977

29  trees - 1 for each school bus victim — San Jose  News, Monday, May 16, 1977

David SauerYUBA CITY (AP) — Outside the music building at Yuba City High School  grow 29 trees, planted in a garden where the sound of young voices  rehearsing drifts faintly among the branches.  

The trees stand for a young music teacher and 28 teen-age choir  members who died last May 21 in the crash near Martinez of a bus  carrying them to a concert at another school.

In the year since the tragedy shook this city of 15,000, survivors of  the crash and parents of the dead have drawn together to build the  memorial garden, lobby for bus safety legislation and help each other  heal.

"I feel a steady progress," said Dean Estabrook, 37, the choir  director who lost his 26-year-old wife, Christina, as well as 28 of  "his kids."       Click photo on right to view larger image »

"I'm getting more and more outgoing, less introspective, as the days  pass," Estabrook said. "The kids in the choir made it easy. They're  an easy bunch to love. And the community support. I don't think  anyone in this town, if they were facing something really heavy,  would have believed how people would come out to help."

The anniversary of the crash falls five days before what would have  been the Estabrook's fourth wedding anniversary. Now he lives alone,  invited for dinner at friends‘ homes "an average five nights a week"  and lunching at school on salads to compensate for the extra calories

"They say the first year is the hardest," reflected Carol Randolph,  who lost a 17-year-old son, Robert, on the bus. "I feel if you get  through all the dates — the holidays, the birthdays when all the  family would be together - then it will be easier."

Robert's twin brother Tom, was one of the 21 student survivors of the  crash. Now 18, he's a freshman at Yuba Community College, but for  his first semester he went back to the high school to sing with the  younger choir.

"The hardest thing for me is the number," said his mother. "If it  wasn't so many... Sometimes I think that if it were just Robert, I  would get along pretty well. It's the group thing that troubles me.  So much pain to so many people."

There was strength in the numbers, too. Mrs. Randolph recalled how,  in the days after the crash, "the house was full of kids all the  time" - the handful of crash survivors who had escaped long hospital  stays, their friends and friends of the dead teen—agers. "They were  great about sharing their grief," she said.  

"Whenever we're together we're always just a little closer together  than with our other friends," said Steve Eberhart, 18, a senior who  recovered from serious injuries to sing in the choir again this year.

Parents of the kids on the bus worked through their grief by throwing  their energy into projects: a memorial music scholarship, a trip to  Sacramento to impress legislators of the need for stricter bus safety  rules.

In September, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed legislation applying  school bus safety standards to buses chartered to carry school groups  on field trips.

California Highway Patrol investigators concluded that a proper  inspection before the trip would have turned up the badly worn  compressor belt that they said caused the bus’ brakes to fail. The  bus flew off an exit ramp near Martinez and landed upside down on the  ground 25 feet below.

More than $40 million in lawsuits have been filed against the school  board, the bus driver and the owner of the bus.

Neither driver Evan Prothero nor Herb Brown, whose company owned the  bus, wanted to talk with reporters about their own tragedies.  Prothero, 51, recently underwent another round of surgery for  injuries that left him walking with crutches.

"On the whole, people have done remarkably," said Mary Kerns, an  energetic Irishwoman whose daughter, Colleen, was among the most  seriously injured of the surviving students. Mrs. Kerns is  recovering from a heart attack in March.

"I didn't feel real good since the accident," she said. "It's hard  to show your feelings. When you have five other kids you have to  kind of hold it in."

"It's hard for me to go to the parents‘ meetings, because the parents  of the deceased will be there," she said. "One family is older — it  was a change of life baby and their only child that they lost.  Another family got a divorce because the mother has withdrawn  completely."

"And Colleen, she's doing fine, but she limps a little bit, and she  has a few problems, and sometimes I resent that. But then I think  she could be one more in the graveyard."

"Let Not Your Song End," sang the Mira Monte High School Madrigal  Singers last month as hundreds of Yuba City residents crowded into  the new garden for its dedication. It was to Mira Monte, in Orinda,  that the Yuba City choir was heading last May 21, and it was that  high school that donated the 29 trees for the garden.

(article by Mary Ganz - page 16A) .

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