Ford store's legacy of caring touches bus-crash survivors
People and businesses in northeastern Oregon opened their arms to 38 tourists who survived when the charter bus they were on last month skidded off an icy Interstate and into a ravine, killing nine passengers.
None went nearly as far -- literally -- as Legacy Ford-Lincoln in La Grande.
According to news reports about the accident, managers at the dealership, about 25 miles from the scene, heard that many of the survivors were afraid to board another bus to get home. The bus that crashed was based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and on the last leg of a trip to see Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
Legacy contacted the local Red Cross chapter and offered enough vehicles and drivers to transport everyone for free. The store plucked three Explorers, two Expeditions and a Fusion off its used-car lot.
A caravan with 12 of the bus passengers on board began the journey of 450 miles one way north three days after the Dec. 30 crash, and six more people were sent on their way the following day.
The dealership also reunited a husband and wife who had ended up in distant hospitals, and it plans to arrange more trips for the victims whose injuries were still being treated.
"It was just a matter of realizing that these people were stuck now in a place a long ways from home and their only prospect for getting home looked like getting back on a bus," says Roger Barnes, Legacy's new-car manager. "If I were in that situation, I would not get back on a bus."
Legacy's response to the bus crash, Oregon's highest-fatality traffic accident since 1971, furthered a tradition of using its vehicles and staff to provide transportation in the remote, mountainous region.
Legacy's drivers typically spend their workdays traveling hundreds of miles at a time, shuttling vehicles to and from auctions, to off-site events or to other dealerships. But they also spend considerable time helping local charities, schools and other groups in need -- for instance, taking children who need cancer treatments to hospitals in Portland or Boise, Idaho.
Each weekend during the winter, Legacy Ford-Lincoln and a nearby sibling store, Legacy Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram, transport children who need rides to the Anthony Lakes Ski Resort 45 miles away. On New Year's Eve and other prime party days on which people might have too much to drink, the stores provide vehicles to get partiers home safely.
"They're the resource that we have," Barnes says. "We like to do whatever we can with that resource."
Tony Grover, the stores' owner, says he encourages his 220 employees to help out whenever possible, especially "in times of trouble and tragedy."
"It's a natural fit for us," says Grover, who also owns Legacy Ford in Pasco, Wash., and a Ford Quick Lane franchise in Walla Walla, Wash. "Our drivers are out there on a daily basis; they know the roads in good weather and bad."
One of Legacy's drivers, Lyle Harmon, says she was glad to be able to help after last month's bus crash. Harmon drove an Explorer carrying two teenage students, suitcases and a wheelchair to the Canadian border. She and another driver didn't have a passport, so she asked some friends in the area to trade places with them and finish the trip from there.
Many of the 47 passengers on the bus when it crashed through a guardrail on I-84 were Koreans studying in Vancouver. Harmon says her passengers spoke very little English, so communication during the eight-hour trip was often difficult.
"My two wanted me to sing 'Do Re Mi' with them, but it took a while for them to get it over to me what they wanted," she says. "They were so happy to be getting home and not be on a bus."
Speaking to reporters gathered outside a diner near the international border, the crash survivors said they were extremely grateful for Legacy's help getting home.
"They know we had an accident so they drive safely," Seokwon Kang, a 24-year-old language student from Korea, told The Vancouver Sun. "They are very kind."
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