|By Matt Campbell, The Kansas City Star,
Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 17, 2008 --Leonard E. Rose spent hours immobilized in a concrete vise, able to move only his wrist to brush the hairline of a sobbing woman trapped next to him.
He would live to tell about it; she would not.
It is one of the many horrific experiences of the skywalks collapse at the Hyatt Regency Hotel -- 27 years ago today -- that are still coming to light.
The story of Rose and five of his relatives who attended the fateful tea dance has never been publicly shared until now. Only three came home, and they were all injured.
"You can't imagine lying underneath that stuff," said Rose, of Overland Park. "Total darkness."
His wife, Anna, who also was trapped and injured, does not like to draw attention to her experience.
"You callous yourself," she said with a nervous laugh. "It was a tragedy, but you live through it every day."
Vicki Schoeb, the Roses' daughter, recently suggested her parents tell their story on this anniversary so people would not forget. They agreed.
"While their bodies have healed and our hearts have come to rest, it remains the single most devastating event of our lifetimes," said Schoeb of Shawnee.
The disaster took the lives of 114 people and became the worst structural failure in the nation's history. The survivors of this family never sought publicity.
Through a series of random events, Leonard and Anna Rose were entertaining out-of-town relatives that night. Anna's sister Judy and her husband, Bob Bolton, were in from eastern Missouri. Bolton's sister, Leona Omer, was visiting from Colorado.
They were all going to have dinner at the home of Saline Gafney, another sister of Anna's who lived in Overland Park, but decided to first go to the tea dance for a cocktail. They couldn't see the dance floor well, so they all went up to the second-floor skywalk to watch from above.
Leonard Rose was an office equipment salesman, and Anna Rose was a secretary at Shawnee Mission North High School. Bob Bolton was a bank vice president, and Judy Bolton was a job guidance counselor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Gafney was retired, and Omer was a widow who donated time to charities.
Original plans for the hotel lobby had the two skywalks hanging on the same vertical support rods descending from the ceiling. But a design change suspended the second-floor skywalk from the fourth-floor one on a separate rod system. That increased the strain on the upper skywalk and set the stage for disaster, investigators later determined.
Leonard Rose recalls the first jolt dropped the lower skywalk a few inches. In seconds both skywalks collapsed on top of the people below.
In the rubble, Anna Rose reached for her sister.
"I squeezed her hand and I said, 'Saline, is that you?' and she said, 'Yes,' and that was the only way we knew that we were lying together."
Gafney said she remained conscious and prayed.
"I kept saying, 'They know we're here, they're going to get us,' " she said.
The sisters were trapped near the end of the wreckage and were pulled free by rescuers relatively soon. Anna Rose had a broken shoulder blade; Gafney had a broken back.
The four other members of their group were deeper in the pile. Leonard Rose was pinned on his left side and could move only his right wrist. Omer was pinned next to him, crying, and he could just reach to brush her cheekbone and hairline. He thinks she bled to death when rescuers pulled the weight off them 4 1/2 hours later. She was 69.
Bob and Judy Bolton, ages 63 and 52, also died at the scene.
When he was finally laid on a gurney, Leonard Rose was given the last rites by a Catholic priest. He is Presbyterian but it didn't matter.
Rose was at Research Hospital for 77 days -- the first time. He had a crushed pelvis, and his left femur was broken in eight places. His right ankle was broken in three places. A cheek bone and two ribs also were broken. Son Daniel Rose worked to keep his father's business alive while he recuperated.
After 18 months doctors removed a metal rod they had inserted in Leonard Rose's thigh bone. He went to play golf and while he was swinging a 5-iron his leg shattered again.
Today he's on his third rod, which will be in his leg permanently. He keeps the second one as a souvenir. His left leg is shorter than his right one but Rose, now 85, says he feels fine. Anna Rose, now 87, also is active, as is Gafney, now 91 and living in Prairie Village.
The Roses reached a settlement with Crown Center Redevelopment Corp. and still receive a monthly check from the insurance company. They have not been back to the Hyatt since the disaster. They say they have no reason or desire to.
Leonard Rose says he is not bitter, although he keeps cassette tapes of an investigative hearing into the disaster.
Lately there has been an organized effort to create a memorial in Washington Square Park to the dead, the survivors and the rescuers. Permission to use the park land is pending before the park board. Leonard Rose supports the project.
"The bigger the memorial the better," he said.
Skywalk memorial --A preliminary design for the proposed skywalk memorial will be unveiled at 2:30 p.m. today on the north side of Washington Square Park, Grand Boulevard and Pershing Road.
--For info about efforts to create a memorial, go to www.skywalk memorial.org or call toll-free 1-877-527-5992.
To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4905 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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