Thou­sands gather to re­mem­ber a Bronco

Evan Thomas, 18, was putting on his dress shirt when crash oc­curred

Regina Leader-Post - - CITY + REGION - KEVIN MITCHELL kemitchell@post­ twit­

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.

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