Thousands gather to remember a Bronco
Evan Thomas, 18, was putting on his dress shirt when crash occurred
They filed into Sask-Tel Centre on Monday, as quiet a crowd as you’ll see in this place of entertainment — hockey jerseys of all hues mixing with suit coats and ties, hands clutching tissues.
Ten days earlier, as the Humboldt Broncos’ bus spun down Highway 35, moving ever closer to a tractor-trailer unit on a connecting highway, 18-year-old Evan Thomas stood to put on his dress shirt and tie.
“(Surviving teammate) Brayden Camrud told us one of the last things he remembers,” Evan’s father, Scott Thomas, said Monday while speaking at his son’s funeral, “is looking at the front of the bus, seeing Evan pull his dress shirt on, tie on, flip his fingers through his (dyed-blond) hair ... and the lights went out. That ridiculous blond hair. That’s what he did, fingers through the hair.”
Sixteen of the 29 people on the bus — heading to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipawin — have died after a collision with that tractor-trailer, which was hauling peat moss.
News of the destruction on that patch of Saskatchewan asphalt, which cut a wide swath through the adjacent snowy ditch, made its way across the globe.
Now they’re saying goodbye to those who died, in cities and in small towns, one by one. Thomas was remembered Monday in Saskatoon as a mischievous, academically-gifted kid with a love both for hockey and baseball, and a knack for holding friends and family tight.
Thomas died instantly from multiple skull fractures — caused, his father theorized, by being struck by the upper cabinets of the bus while standing to take care of shirt and hair.
The day to that point had been routine: Froot Loops for breakfast, a trek to the rink, a run back home, a snack, agreeing to take care of the cat for the weekend while his billets made a trip.
“(The crash) has shocked people with its viciousness, its randomness, and its senselessness,” Scott Thomas said in the eulogy for his son, before a gathering of thousands.
“It is simply unfair. It is unfair to my son, it is unfair to his teammates, it is unfair to coach Darcy Haugan’s young children. It is unfair to my wife, my daughter, his sister, and to anyone who has loved him as unconditionally as we did.
“It could have happened,” he added, “on any bus, on any stretch, on any road, in any part of Canada, any hockey team. I think that’s why it ripped through everybody so hard. Anyone who’s ever put their child on a bus to attend an event realize this could have happened to them.”
Evan’s grandfather, Frank Thomas, talked of the kid at two or three years old, playing mini-sticks hockey with anybody who would take him on, insisting everybody stand and sing O Canada first.
“I’m going to miss the times we could have had,” said uncle Chris Thomas, who watched Evan grow from boy to man.
A parade of family and friends told stories — of shinny games, Tim Hortons iced capps, heated Xbox games, country music, thrown snowballs, Mario Kart, pride in making great Kraft Dinner.
“I want to thank you for being the brother I never had,” said his cousin, Alex Matheson. “I knew you were always there for me, there to listen to me. You’d protect me like I was your little sister, and you didn’t have to, but you did.”
Bonny Stevenson, with husband Craig, offered hard-earned wisdom for the Thomas family.
The Stevensons lost their son, 17-year-old Quinn, to a drunk driver nearly five years ago.
“There is life after the suffering,” Bonny Stevenson told Scott, wife Laurie, daughter Jordyn, and family.
“No one knows what you’re capable of, unless you’re faced with the worst nightmare of your life. I wish I could tell you that in 14 days, the pain you’re feeling today will go away. I can’t. Unfortunately, the heartache will never really go away. I just learned to channel it and use it positively. There’s no recipe to follow, no timeline you have to meet. You do it moment by moment, minute by minute, day by day, and step by step. You lean on your friends, and your family, for support. Ask for help.”
Scott Thomas, meanwhile, talked about coming to terms with things too horrible to comprehend.
“You cannot make sense of this tragedy, so please stop trying. I have stopped trying,” Thomas said.
The why, he said, is unanswerable.
The how? Skull fractures. A kid who had been Snapchatting with friends, suddenly stopping at 5 p.m., for reasons that quickly became all too clear.
“My heart has broken for you,” Bonny Stevenson told the family. “Evan will always be alive in your heart, no matter what. I promise.”
Humboldt Broncos president Kevin Garinger, centre, attended Evan Thomas’ memorial service at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon Monday.
Attendants signed a poster of Evan Thomas during the Humboldt Broncos player’s funeral in Saskatoon Monday.