Longtime New Orleans cultural advocate Allison Reinhardt, 40, has devoted her career to looking after others.
She has tutored, mentored and doted on hundreds of children in Roots of Music, a youth music program she co-founded with Derrick Tabb. She’s made sure that adult musicians got the health care and financial assistance they needed through her work at the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.
So it was classic Reinhardt to be in caretaker mode Saturday, despite being badly injured a week earlier in a crash blamed on drunk driver Neilson Rizzuto that injured dozens of spectators at the Endymion parade.
An Orleans Parish magistrate commissioner on Tuesday quadrupled the bail amount for Neilson …
All of her left ribs were fractured, puncturing her lung, though that seems to be healing, she said, urging that people not worry about her, though she had no health insurance and so hospital bills are a concern.
Reinhardt came home on Monday. But her efforts to do anything are hobbled by a massive sling attached to a foam support pillow that sticks out from her body like a snare drum.
The contraption is designed to support her badly fractured upper arm, shoulder and collarbone, which may require surgery next week. On top of that, she has scratches and abrasions all over her body, even though she was wearing thick jeans and a long-sleeve shirt.
By comparison with some people, she figures, she has it good. “I’m in my hometown. I have all of these people babysitting me,” Reinhardt said, as sousaphonist Edward Lee stopped by to check on her. Her boss has continued to pay her salary, though she can’t work. And she has had a friend with her at all times since her accident.
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On Saturday, Jessica Edwards and Megan McStravick went to the store to get cat food and sat with her on her front porch, feeding her lasagna and bringing her water when it was time to take pain killers.
They also tell her to sit down and relax. That doesn’t come easily for Reinhardt, who sat still, as instructed, but continued to fret. “Imagine being struck by a pickup truck and your only contact is someone else who just got out of the hospital,” she said.
Reinhardt was referring to her best friend’s husband, Mario Basantes, 37, a visitor who was standing next to her at Endymion and remains hospitalized with a pelvis crushed so badly that doctors say he will likely be wheelchair-bound and in intensive physical therapy for the next several months, maybe a year.
“At this point, his goal is to walk into his daughter Julissa’s high school graduation this June, even if it’s on crutches” said his wife, Amy “Fishy” Basantes, 41, Reinhardt’s best friend of 25 years.
When others ran away from the terrifying scene of the Endymion parade crash on Saturday nigh…
For the Basantes family, too, mounting hospital bills are a concern, since it’s unclear what the couple’s insurance policy will and will not cover. They still have bills to pay in New York, where Mario Basantes worked at Land & Sea catering in the Bronx and Fishy Basantes worked at a bakery in the Bronx and a restaurant in Scarsdale.
Reinhardt has enough room for the couple to stay with her, and neighbors down the street have offered to build a ramp so that Mario Basantes can get in and out of the house. But, at the very least, Fishy now likely needs a New Orleans bakery job for the next few months, while her husband recovers.
The whole situation leaves Reinhardt with a tremendous sense of guilt, since she had lobbied the couple to come to town for Carnival this year. Though Amy Basantes has visited New Orleans several times, it was Mario Basantes’ first visit.
On the day before Endymion, Reinhardt, the marketing director at Putumayo World Music, took the day off from her job and walked the French Quarter with her friends. They dined on crawfish and other local favorites. At Jackson Square, they listened to jazz, and Mario bought two delicate floral crowns, which the two best friends immediately donned. They sat together on the Moonwalk for a while, watching boats move along the Mississippi River.
The trio left the Quarter entranced with New Orleans. “They loved it,” Reinhardt said. “They couldn’t believe it.”
Reinhardt spent the next day on her front porch with a larger group of friends and her son Kevin, 20, who had just arrived for the holiday from his sophomore year at Creighton University in Omaha.
Then Reinhardt and several others walked from Reinhardt’s apartment near City Park to watch Endymion. On the way, Reinhardt warned them not to get their hopes up for lots of beads because of the huge crowds that Endymion attracts. But Fishy Basantes and another friend ran up to a float anyway, hoping to catch a few throws to bring home to Mario Basantes’ teenage daughters.
Neilson Rizzuto, who plowed into 32 people at a Mid-City intersection during the Endymion pa…
Reinhardt hung back. To her left stood Mario. To her right was music producer Chris Rogers. Reinhardt remembers remarking on how cute their friends looked, as they begged for beads below a brightly lit Endymion float.
She and Rogers were in mid-sentence when Reinhardt was hit from behind. Though she was conscious the entire time, she still doesn’t know exactly what happened. Apparently she was lifted off the ground and carried by the grill of Rizzuto's pickup. “I felt my bones crushing,” she said. “But it didn’t hurt. I couldn’t feel them.”
She didn’t realize what was going on, but she remembers seeing the truck’s windshield and its headlights. Then she fell down, in great pain, once the pickup rammed into a dump truck and came to a halt.
The pickup’s tires were still spinning, so there was concern that it would again jolt forward, crushing her. Someone grabbed her broken arm, which was incredibly painful. Then Rogers grabbed her under her shoulders and pulled her to safety.
Almost immediately, she remembers being comforted by a woman in a purple wig who identified herself as a pediatric nurse. “She held my head and talked to me,” Reinhardt said. “And thank God that the parade kept rolling, because the only people around me were people who were helping me.”
The nurse and a paramedic yelled for Rogers, who held her hand as she was taken to an ambulance and told her that most of her friends were fine. Though Basantes was hurt, he would be OK, Rogers said.
Since no one could ride in the ambulance and paramedics were directed to different hospitals, the group of friends ended up driving from hospital to hospital until they found Reinhardt at University Medical Center and Basantes at Tulane Medical Center.
At first, there was deep concern about Basantes’ spinal column and about a laceration on his liver. Those concerns have abated, leaving the doctors to worry about how to fix the three or four pelvic fractures he suffered.
Reinhardt, who first came to New Orleans to attend Loyola University, thought back to high school days in New Jersey, when she met Fishy Basantes. The two met in art class and joined with their friend Jill to become an inseparable trio. After their senior prom, they ditched their dates and went together, the three of them, to the Jersey shore, a post-prom tradition.
After Hurricane Katrina, Fishy and Mario Basantes held fundraisers and gathered clothing that they sent to Reinhardt and her son and to musicians scattered across the country. “They raised money for all of us,” Reinhardt said. “They were my Katrina angels.”
Thinking back to a week ago, Reinhardt is worried about her best friends, but thankful. “I’m so grateful to be alive. I’m so grateful that my son is not motherless and that Mario’s two daughters still have their father.”
For her, the crash feels like a personal terrorist attack, she said, referring to Rizzuto. “I know one thing: He brought terror into our lives. I felt terror. I still feel it,” she said.