Salina man offers help to grateful Amish

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SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Tired after a long day at work, the last thing Ron Brunner expected to do the night of March 7 was rescue a group of Amish people in a burning bus.

Brunner, who is head mechanic at Reece Construction in Salina, was driving east on Interstate Highway 70 just after 7 p.m. when he noticed flames coming from underneath a passenger bus as both vehicles passed the Ohio Street exit.

“The fire was coming from their rear axle,” he said.

Brunner flagged the bus driver, and the driver pulled the bus to the side of the highway. Brunner stopped behind the bus. Tired as he was, he couldn’t abandon a vehicle and passengers in trouble, no matter how much he wanted to get home.

As Brunner climbed out of his car, the driver jumped off the bus with a fire extinguisher and doused the flames. Brunner asked if he could help in any way.

That’s when he discovered the bus contained 56 men, women and children from Amish communities in Iowa and northern Missouri. The group was returning from a wedding in Colorado and already had experienced a blown tire the day before on this tour bus supplied by an Amish-owned bus company.

“I saw a lot of gray beards, white shirts, hats and long dresses,” Brunner said. “When I looked in the bus, all I saw were smiling faces. No one was upset.”

Still, this traveling Amish community was stuck by the side of the road. Despite multiple efforts, a tow truck or mechanic couldn’t be persuaded to come to the scene.

“We couldn’t get anyone else out there to help,” Brunner said. “That’s when I decided to take it upon myself to see if I could do something.”

The first thing Brunner did was call his wife, Kristi Brunner, to see if she knew of somewhere to take these 56 stranded people while he tried to repair their bus.

Luckily, Kristi Brunner had a perfect place: she is director of Drury Place, a retirement apartment complex. There was space in the downstairs dining room.

“Otherwise, these folks would have to sit in the bus for seven or eight hours,” she said. “I didn’t think that was right. That’s a long time for kids and babies.”

The group stayed at Drury Place about four hours while Ron Brunner did what he could to repair the axle using the hand tools he had in his car. He was assisted by Kansas Highway Patrol troopers who set up cones and illuminated the area with lights.

Brunner didn’t have the parts to repair the axle, so with the help of friend Joey Herrman, he jacked up the bus and chained the damaged axle to the undercarriage. Their goal was to get the bus on the road again to Topeka, where the owners would have it repaired.

By 11 p.m., the bus was ready to travel again. Shortly after 11:30 p.m., the bus was loaded and the Amish people were on their way to Topeka. Brunner refused any payment for his labor.

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