THE SEV­ENTH VIC­TIM

Greg Mech walked away from the deadly OC Transpo bus-train crash with­out a scratch but for­ever scarred

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - ANDREW DUFFY

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?

JULIE OLIVER

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.

JULIE OLIVER

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.

Comments

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.