Ronnie Polaneczky: In the strangest of ways: A lesson in faith, hope and charity

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Good Samaritans come to Louis Vann's aid Saturday.

I ENTER Louis Vann's room at Hahnemann University Hospital, armed with a twofold request from the Good Samaritans who helped save his life.

Can they visit him, to see how he's faring? And would he mind if they prayed for him?

"Sure, they can come," says Vann, sitting on the edge of his bed in a spotless white room, where sunlight spills through a window. "They can pray."

Vann is 45, but he looks older. Years of homelessness - he sleeps in LOVE Park and eats meals at St. John's Hospice - have taken a toll on him.

He is missing many teeth, so it can be hard to understand his speech. And his right eye is clouded by a cataract, which he says affects his sight. He suspects that's why he didn't see the Krapf tour bus before colliding with it as he walked south on Broad Street toward City Hall.

The vehicle was part of a caravan of local members of the National Action Network. They were traveling to Washington, D.C., for a 47th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

As the bus turned off Broad Street, onto the Vine Expressway, Vann says, it struck him. Witnesses I spoke with say that, actually, it was Vann who struck the bus, walking right into it.

The police are still investigating how Vann came to be lying under the bus' front wheel, but no one disputes its terrible outcome: Vann lost his right foot.

At the end of his leg, where his foot used to be, a blood-filled drainage tube now snakes from beneath a thick pad of bandages.

"It doesn't hurt too much," says Vann, who seems almost casual about his lost limb and by the knowledge that, if he were to look out his window, he'd see the precise spot, on the street below, where the mangling occurred.

Maybe, when your life is as rough as Vann's is, you're not surprised when the next wave of misfortune rolls over you. Maybe you come to expect it.

Maybe you even feel lucky, as Vann says he feels, to be resting in a soft, clean bed - with a carton of cold milk in one hand, a call button in the other to summon a kind nurse when you need help, and a nice TV set beaming colorful images into your air-conditioned room.

"I'll get a false foot, like my brother has," he says, referring to a sibling who lost a lower leg to diabetes and now wears a prosthesis. "It'll be OK."

His cheery attitude would hearten the Good Samaritans who contacted me yesterday, asking if I'd help them track down Vann, whose name they didn't get as they frantically worked to free him from beneath the bus on Saturday.

Edward Lloyd, a Pennsylvania Democratic state committeeman, and his brother, Daryl, a New Jersey photographer, were on a bus behind the one that hit Vann. They watched in horror as he bled under the wheel.

"About eight or 10 of us ran off the bus to help," says Edward Lloyd. "We calmed the bus driver. She was crying and upset; it seemed like she was in shock. We got her to back the bus off the guy. We directed traffic.

"Someone tied a belt around the man's leg to stop the bleeding. We ran into Hahnemann's ER" - located right on the corner - "for help. Cars were driving around us. We didn't know if the man was going to live or die."

Once Vann was transported by rescue workers to the ER, those on the bus that hit him were transferred to a new vehicle, with a new driver, and the caravan continued to D.C.

But the passengers were deeply impacted by what had happened.

Yesterday, as Edward Lloyd recalled those moments, he still sounded stunned by what he'd been part of - and stunned that, as his trip resumed to D.C., life was changing forever for a man whose name he didn't even know, and for a bus driver who seemed shaken to the marrow by her part in it.

"We feel really bad for the man and for the driver," he says. "It happened so fast. It was a horrible thing to see."

A spokesman for Krapf, a 69-year-old family business based in West Chester, declined to identify the driver or to comment on the accident, other than to say that Krapf is cooperating with the Philadelphia police investigation.

If the Good Samaritans could talk to the driver, says Edward Lloyd, they'd let her know that they're praying for her emotional recovery as strongly as they're praying for Vann's physical one.

"We just want to comfort them, and let them know we're glad we could help them. We've been thinking about them ever since Saturday."

As for Vann, he hopes that someone in his family reads this article and learns what has happened to him. He can't remember their phone numbers or addresses. But he's sure they'd want to know he was hurt.

"Sometimes you just need family," he says.

And Good Samaritans, until family can get there.

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/polaneczky. Read Ronnie's blog at http://go.philly.com/ronnieblog.