Rapid response produces positive result from near tragedy

CORRECTION -- 05/18/07 -- Bruno W. Busch did not hit the utility pole with his scooter as reported in Jane Ann Morrison's Monday column. While trying to get around the pole, his back wheel went off the curb.

The terror he felt surpassed the terror of war.

Bruno W. Busch is 83 and fought in the Pacific during World War II. The former steelworker from Minnesota didn't hesitate to work in temperatures of 30 below. He's no wimp. But when his motorized scooter hit a utility pole on April 8 and threw him into oncoming traffic on Tropicana Avenue, near Jones Avenue, he knew terror.

"I'm a tough old German. I'm a steelworker. That made me tough. But facing those cars, I felt helpless," Busch said. "The first car stopped 10 feet from my head." Other cars just kept whipping around the stopped vehicle as he sprawled in the road.

The driver stopped to help Busch right himself. Then he went on his way. Busch, bruised but not broken, was lucky it was a Sunday morning, when traffic was lighter than it would have been during the workweek.

His scooter is 28 inches wide, and there was just 29 inches of sidewalk between the utility pole and the street curb. A back wheel went off the curb, and he was thrown into traffic.

Busch had been heading to the grocery store, a trip he's made often during the nearly four years he has lived at the Renaissance Villas.

He needs the scooter because his diabetes prevents him from walking, and he stopped driving because of his 12 heart attacks. If No. 13 struck when he was driving, he feared he could harm others. His wife of 61 years, Barbara Busch, has vision problems, so she can't drive. But his scooter and the bus system make it possible for him to navigate the dangerous streets of Las Vegas, at least most of the time.

(You may remember my colleague in columnizing John L. Smith wrote about Busch last September when he couldn't board a CAT bus because unruly passengers wouldn't move from the handicapped seats and the driver wouldn't insist.)

Busch's accident created something positive. If you drive by that spot today, there's a new cement path that goes around the utility pole providing Busch and others in wheelchairs and scooters plenty of space to navigate.

It all happened fairly quickly.

Embarq engineer Dean Whitman learned of the accident and tried to figure out a quick fix. Moving the pole, which is used by Embarq and Cox Cable, would take a long time and would be expensive. He suggested a pathway around the pole. But the pathway would have to cross the Renaissance Villas property.

Whitman asked Sharon Miller, manager of the 800-unit complex, for permission to cut into the grassy area to put in a pathway around the utility pole. Her boss at ConAm Management immediately OK'd it. "This is one of my customers who has to be safe. We immediately said yes, do what you have to do," Miller said.

Embarq and Cox Cable agreed to split the cost, without knowing what it would be to construct the pathway and brick wall.

The pathway around the one pole makes it safe under the Americans With Disabilities Act. But there are lots of pathways blocked by old utility poles placed before that law kicked in.

Busch wants those pathways made accessible for the protection of others. "I had the scare of my life. It was worse than fighting the Japanese," Busch said.

Embarq's Whitman says anyone with problems with an Embarq utility pole blocking a path from being ADA accessible can call him directly at 244-6000. Without a doubt, he will get many calls, including calls on poles that aren't Embarq's responsibility.

So a near tragedy becomes a story of quick response. On Tuesday, one month to the day after Busch's accident, the new pathway around the pole was finished.

Milan Rezabek, an engineer and utility coordinator with Clark County Public Works, said what surprised him was how quickly everyone, Embarq, Cox and Renaissance Villas, worked together to solve a problem. "Everyone was so nice, so agreeable. And he was so close to getting killed."

Nobody wants to see anyone flipped into a roadway. Drivers, do you really want to be testing your reflexes on someone like Bruno W. Busch?

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.