THE SEVENTH VICTIM
Greg Mech walked away from the deadly OC Transpo bus-train crash without a scratch but forever scarred
By early summer, Dylan Mech dreaded phone calls that came from numbers he didn’t recognize.
He was worried about his father, a senior information technology manager at the CBC. “In the back of my mind, I thought he might commit suicide,” says Dylan, 24.
Greg Mech had not returned to the CBC since a serious mental health episode in January. It was followed in February by an attack on his wife, Sharon, something completely at odds with the quiet harmony of their long marriage.
For months, Greg had undergone treatment at Queensway Carleton Hospital and The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. He told his son he was “doing better.”
But on a Saturday evening in August, Dylan received the call he had been secretly fearing. A nurse told him his father had died of suicide.
“My girlfriend was with me at the time and she was crying, and I was just, like, emotionless,” says Dylan. “I couldn’t comprehend it at first. I didn’t start crying until after I started telling my mom — and then it was just awful.”
His family would learn that Greg had convinced doctors at The Royal that he needed a day pass. Once released, he took a bus to the Queensway Carleton Hospital, climbed six storeys of its parking garage and jumped to his death.
It was the tragic culmination of a shocking series of events that began on the morning of Sept. 18, 2013. Greg was on board the Route 76 express that collided with a Via Rail passenger train. The train sliced through the front of the bus, killing six people.
In the silence after that crash, Greg Mech became its seventh victim.
Greg gave dozens of interviews on the day of the crash. Dressed in a pinstriped white shirt, he repeated his calm, clinical account of the collision to one reporter after another. The double-decker bus left Fallowfield station at 8:47 a.m. Everything seemed normal. It entered the long, sweeping turn toward the level crossing. He could see from his upper-deck seat that the signal lights were flashing and the gates were down.
The bus continued to accelerate. At first, he thought it was the operator’s style of driving. But as the bus approached the crossing at speed, he knew they were in trouble.
“The bus driver missed that signal,” Mech told the Citizen that day. “People were screaming for him to stop. It was a second or two before the collision and it was too late.”
The angled nose of the bus mashed into the side of the train and exploded open. Dead and injured passengers were scattered down the tracks.
Greg called his wife as soon as he climbed out of the mangled bus. “He phoned me right away to let me know he was OK, that I shouldn’t worry,” Sharon says.
The two had been inseparable since meeting at Ottawa’s Westin Hotel in the mid-1980s. A native Montrealer, Greg was at the hotel while doing contract work for the CBC; Sharon went there to have a drink and dance. They forged an immediate connection.
“I thought he was really kind,” Sharon says.
The couple shared countless restaurant dinners, and spent long hours walking in nature. They married in 1988, and two years later, bought a house in the booming Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven. Two cats, Barney and Burnbank, soon joined them.
Dylan was born in 1993 and the family’s centre of gravity shifted to him.
A few years later, when Sharon was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases — multiple sclerosis and colitis — Greg took on more responsibility. He was one of those people who seemed to have bottomless capacity.
“He put me first,” Dylan says. “We did a lot of things together.”
Greg taught his son to play tennis and basketball, and tried unsuccessfully to get him interested in cross-country skiing. He helped him navigate Windows 98 and loaded games onto his computer.
Greg also shared his passion for horse racing — nurtured as a teenager at Montreal’s Blue Bonnets Raceway — and often took the whole family to the Rideau Carleton Raceway.
At the CBC, Greg was known as a driven professional who was also preternaturally calm: He could fall asleep in a coffee shop or on a conference call. He seemed to manage stress simply by pounding harder on his keyboard.
Even on the day of the bus crash, Greg seemed perfectly composed. He came home for lunch then returned to the crash site to do more media interviews, his wife says, because he “thought he was being useful.” Late that evening, he did a nationally televised interview with CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, who asked him what was going through his mind at the end of his long, traumatic day.
“I’m just trying to figure out how we can learn from this and avoid or greatly reduce these types of events in the future,” Greg said, still measured. “We have to get something out of this.”
All of it would make Greg’s descent that much harder to fathom for Sharon and Dylan.
“I would have thought he was a very happy person up until that point,” says Sharon, now 55. “We did everything together, Greg and I. If there was a function with Dylan, we were all there together. We had friends, but that was something we did together. It wasn’t like there were his friends and my friends. They were ours. It was ‘us.’ ”
Greg went back to work fulltime at the CBC two weeks after the crash.
He also resumed his place on the express bus (it would be renamed Route 72 out of respect for the crash victims). Still, it took some time for him to get comfortable crossing the railway tracks again. He worried about another crash — Greg lobbied to have OC Transpo buses stop at all rail crossings — but talked himself through his anxiety.
“I tried to rationalize it,” he told one interviewer. “If the lights aren’t flashing on the (crossing) signals, then you’re going to be OK.” To further calm himself, he would think about a mother and child who had survived the crash without a scratch.
A self-contained man who felt at home with the hardwired logic of the IT world, Greg rejected repeated offers to speak to counsellors and psychologists. He went to one group session for crash survivors at The Royal, but told his wife he could manage without professional help.
“He didn’t want to talk to a medical person. He thought he could handle it on his own,” Sharon says. It was typical of Greg. He had always avoided his own family doctor.
On the first anniversary of the tragedy, Greg told the Citizen he had hit bottom soon after the crash when he saw the faces of the six victims for the first time. “That was the low point,” he said. In another interview, he pronounced himself “mentally recovered.”
Greg considered the media interviews to be therapy of sorts: evidence that the crash hadn’t changed him. But his family knew better. Dylan saw his father’s outbursts: “He’d get angry at little things, and go into a big fit. He developed a short fuse. He wasn’t like that before.”
Sharon noticed Greg spent more time by himself. Before the crash, he had always reserved Friday night for a dinner date. More and more, however, he booked a tennis match or an event with other members of his running club on Friday evening.
“The one thing he said to me after the accident, he said he had the right to do things he wanted to do — which was not him,” Sharon says. “Before that, it was all about us, the family unit. We did everything together.
“I always said he was my best friend. But he totally pulled away. He became angrier.”
His family hoped the clouds would pass once Greg put more distance between himself and the crash. They also knew he was under considerable pressure at the CBC, where he was managing a large IT project.
Greg talked about retiring at the end of that project: He told Sharon he wanted to renovate the kitchen so they could enjoy the house. Maybe then, she thought, everything would return to normal.
But unbeknownst to his family and co-workers, Greg was already set on a tightrope that connected his past to his future.
He would lose his balance in December 2016.
I would have thought he was a very happy person up until that point. We did everything together, Greg and I. If there was a function with Dylan, we were all there together.
In mid-December, Greg Mech came through the door in tears.
Sharon thought something terrible had happened at work. But Greg confessed to having a onenight stand on a recent business trip. He couldn’t seem to fathom his own behaviour.
“He said he was so sorry and would never do it again,” Sharon says. “He said he didn’t know why he’d do such a thing. He said, ‘Please, please, give me another chance.’ ”
Although deeply hurt by the betrayal, Sharon could see her husband’s pain and resolved to try to move past it.
That Christmas, Greg sank into a murky depression.
“That’s when it got really bad,” Dylan says. “He just sat at home and stewed in his own sadness and guilt.”
Greg suffered night terrors. The thought of returning to work after the holidays filled him with anxiety. On the night before he was to return to the CBC, Greg went outside, ran a garden hose from his exhaust pipe to the window of his car, and turned on the ignition. That morning, he came back in the house after his suicide attempt failed, called the police and told his wife, “I did a bad thing. I did a bad thing.”
The police took him to Queensway Carleton Hospital, but emergency doctors there did not seem overly concerned. He was given a note that said he was not able to return to work until Jan. 23, and sent home with a book recommendation (Hold Me Tight by psychologist Sue Johnson, which offers advice on how to navigate relationship problems).
Human resources managers at the CBC arranged for him to see a psychologist.
Greg’s condition steadily worsened. For hours at a time, he would sit on the couch and stare into space. Returning one evening from the Gladstone Theatre, he took his hands off the steering wheel and just looked at Sharon. It left her badly shaken.
As his return to the CBC approached, Greg suffered another debilitating panic attack. Sharon found him rolling on the floor.
“He said, ‘Help me. Help me,’ ” Sharon says. Dylan called an ambulance and Greg went back to the Queensway Carleton, where he was treated for anxiety and diagnosed with diabetes.
Greg began taking anti-anxiety medication and went on long-term disability. But his decline only accelerated.
On Feb. 2, Sharon was sitting on her bed when Greg stormed in the door, agitated by the noise she had made by tearing some computer paper. As she stood up, he struck her on the back of the head with a bottle of mineral water. Sharon grabbed the bottle and pushed her husband onto the bed. “Just kill me, just kill me,” he pleaded.
More shocked than hurt, Sharon screamed for Dylan, who was in the room next door. At first, Dylan thought his father was having a heart attack and he dialed 911; he was still on the phone as his panicked mother described the attack.
The police responded to the call, and when officers arrived, Greg was on the stairs waiting for them. He was taken away in handcuffs.
Sharon would never see him again.
Greg spent several weeks at the Queensway Carleton’s mental health unit, then rented an apartment on Baseline Road as he waited for an admission to The Royal.
He had been charged with assault in keeping with the province’s mandatory charge policy in domestic violence cases. The policy means officers must lay charges against the “dominant aggressor” when there are reasonable grounds — even if the victim doesn’t want to pursue a criminal case.
Among Greg ’s release conditions was an order that he not communicate with his wife.
“That’s not what I wanted,” Sharon insists. “I didn’t need for him to be charged or anything. I just wanted him to get the help he needed.”
The non-communication order meant that Greg was more isolated than ever by the time he became an in-patient at The Royal. Dylan was one of his only visitors. “He always said he was doing better,” Dylan says. “He was very reserved, very quiet, but I thought he would be safe in the hospital.”
The family never learned the details of Greg’s treatment plan. What’s more, neither Sharon nor Dylan was told he had been approved for a day pass in August. Greg had convinced his doctors he needed the pass to pay the rent on his Baseline Avenue apartment.
Every in-patient who applies for a day pass must go through an official risk assessment to be released from The Royal. Greg was able to persuade medical officials that he presented no harm to himself or others. He told his doctors he was not suicidal.
Says Sharon: “Greg’s a smart man; I’m sure he told them what they wanted to hear.”
His day pass approved, Greg boarded a westbound OC Transpo Route 101 bus. He made his way to the Queensway Carleton, to a parking garage he had previously scouted. (On that prior occasion, a security guard confronted him — the guard thought he was acting strangely — and brought him into the hospital. His behaviour was attributed to confusion from a diabetic episode.)
On the evening of Aug. 12, Greg walked inside the same parking garage. He could be seen on a security camera at 8:30 p.m.
Ten minutes later, he was gone.
“That guy was dedicated. He was proud of his work.”
Daniel Laprise, a senior IT analyst at CBC, delivered the eulogy at Greg ’s funeral on the last Saturday in August. He considered Greg a mentor and spoke warmly of his sly sense of humour, his devotion to family — and his abiding affection for french fries.
Many CBC employees wrote condolence messages to the family. “He had grace and humility. He was decent and kind,” said CBC News Ottawa co-host Adrian Harewood.
“He was a gentle soul,” wrote CBC Radio producer Karla Hilton, “and in a work environment where many people are in a rush, he was wonderfully patient.”
On Greg’s cremation urn, a horse was emblazoned alongside the familiar race call, “They’re at the post, and they’re off!” His remains were inurned in a garden pagoda.
Greg’s death has launched his family on a painful, searching journey — one travelled by many of those left behind by suicide. There are always questions.
“I will probably think about it every single day for the rest of my life,” Dylan says.
For Sharon, the past three months have oscillated between grief and anger, heartbreak and bewilderment. “When you look back, there are a lot of what-ifs,” she says. “What if I had done this? What if I had done that?”
She believes things might have turned out differently had she been able to visit Greg in the hospital, talk to him, help him. “He was pretty isolated,” she says.
Dylan says his father never should have been allowed to leave the hospital on his own. “I would have gone to help him, but no one told me,” he says. “It was terribly handled, to be honest.”
The Royal has launched an internal review of the case, but officials will not publicly discuss Greg’s diagnoses or course of treatment.
After the OC Transpo bus crash, three dozen lawsuits were filed against the City of Ottawa by injured passengers and victims’ families. But Greg didn’t want to take part in legal action because he didn’t believe he had been damaged by the crash.
His family members believe differently.
“It had to be the trigger,” says Sharon.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense, the only thing, for him to change that much,” Dylan says.
Greg did not leave a suicide note. He didn’t carry a wallet or identification on the day he died. In his pockets, police found only money — $125 in crisp bills — and four OC Transpo bus tickets.
He always said he was doing better. He was very reserved, very quiet, but I thought he would be safe in the hospital. When you look back, there are a lot of what-ifs. What if I had done this? What if I had done that?
Sharon and Dylan Mech, mother and son, are the surviving relatives of Greg Mech, pictured at left, who died by suicide in August. Mech was a passenger on the OC Transpo bus that crashed into a Via train in 2013 in Barrhaven. After that, his life descended into mental illness and tragedy.
Greg and Dylan Mech in August 2016, roughly one year before Greg’s death by suicide. “He put me first,” says Dylan. “We did a lot of things together.”
Greg Mech with son Dylan and wife Sharon in December 2009.
Sharon Mech says the 2013 collision in Barrhaven between an OC Transpo bus and a Via train “had to be the trigger” that led to the downward spiral of her late husband, Greg, who was a passenger on the bus.