EV­ERY­DAY COM­MUTE TURNS TO HEARTBREAK

Ev­ery seat taken be­fore dis­as­ter on Transitway

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - BLAIR CRAW­FORD, EL­IZ­A­BETH PAYNE, KELLY EGAN, JON WILL­ING, SHAAMINI YO­G­A­RET­NAM, TAY­LOR BLEWETT AND JOANNE LAU­CIUS

It should have been a nor­mal com­mute home at the end of a long work week for the pas­sen­gers on OC Transpo’s “Con­nex­ion” Route 269, bound for Kanata’s Bri­dle­wood neigh­bour­hood from down­town.

But as the packed, dou­ble-decker bus roared through West­boro Sta­tion at 3:50 p.m., some­thing went sud­denly, hor­ri­fy­ingly wrong. It ap­pears the driver lost con­trol, send­ing the bus hurtling over the curb and into the shel­ter, where it be­came im­paled on the shel­ter’s over­hang­ing steel and glass roof, which sliced six or seven rows deep into the bus’s up­per right side.

Two peo­ple on the bus and one per­son stand­ing on the plat­form were killed. An­other 23 were in­jured, nine of whom were in hospi­tal Fri­day night with crit­i­cal, life-threat­en­ing in­juries.

The fe­male bus driver was ar­rested at the scene.

“I re­mem­ber hear­ing the bus driver say­ing, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God’,” one pas­sen­ger said as she walked away from the sta­tion down Scott Street, an hour after the crash.

“The bus was full, ev­ery seat was taken, plus there were peo­ple stand­ing in the mid­dle row, so they were fly­ing back,” said the woman, a mem­ber of the mil­i­tary who would not give her name.

“There was glass ev­ery­where. One guy I was help­ing, his foot was fac­ing the other way and he had blood all over his face. He was top left, second from the front.

“One per­son on the road was un­con­scious, the other one was con­scious, but pretty beat up. It was aw­ful.”

Po­lice, paramedics and fire­fight­ers swarmed the scene at West­boro Sta­tion as they tried to free the in­jured, many of them trapped on the bus’s up­per deck. Po­lice closed Scott Street near the sta­tion and buses rerouted off the Transitway.

Fire­fight­ers used lad­ders to reach the bus’s up­per deck, as first-re­spon­ders worked in bone-chill­ing tem­per­a­tures to com­fort and treat the in­jured. Some of the badly hurt were re­moved on stretch­ers through the bus’s smashed up­per front win­dow. Oth­ers were car­ried or limped their way to a fleet of wait­ing am­bu­lances.

“It is with deep sad­ness that I re­port that there were three con­firmed ca­su­al­ties,” Ot­tawa Mayor Jim Wat­son said at an evening press brief­ing at city hall.

“Speak­ing on be­half of my col­leagues on city council, our hearts and con­do­lences go out to all those in­jured, those fam­i­lies that have lost loved ones and their fam­i­lies. Our thoughts are also with the oth­ers on that bus, at that sta­tion, those di­rectly in­volved, and those who wit­nessed the col­li­sion.”

The Ot­tawa Hospi­tal declared an emer­gency Code Or­ange about a half hour after the crash. It re­ceived 12 pa­tients at its trauma cen­tre at the Civic cam­pus and six at the Gen­eral cam­pus. A doc­tor at the Civic cam­pus walked into the emer­gency room and ad­dressed the hand­ful of peo­ple wait­ing with con­di­tions un­re­lated to the bus crash. He thanked them for their pa­tience, and in­structed any­one who felt their con­di­tion was get­ting worse to talk to the triage desk.

“We’re hav­ing a mass ca­su­alty event,” he ex­plained. “There’s some re­ally crit­i­cal pa­tients.”

The bus driver was taken to po­lice head­quar­ters Fri­day night to be ques­tioned by po­lice.

“As to the driver, I can ad­vise you with­out get­ting into de­tails, there was a re­quire­ment for us to ar­rest her at the scene and she has been trans­ported to our head­quar­ters for in­ter­view­ing,” Ot­tawa po­lice Chief Charles Borde­leau told re­porters.

In re­sponse to a fol­lowup ques­tion, he said: “I can tell you that some­thing led us to ar­rest the in­di­vid­ual and take them to the sta­tion.”

Six po­lice col­li­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tors pored over the crash scene try­ing to de­ter­mine what went wrong. On­tario’s Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion and Trans­port Canada are also in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Borde­leau said.

Route 269 does not stop at West­boro Sta­tion, run­ning straight through from Tun­ney’s Pas­ture, its pre­vi­ous stop, to Bayshore. It takes about an hour to do the full run, and many pas­sen­gers come from the National De­fence Head­quar­ters at the Macken­zie King Bridge, where it starts its run.

It is the second deadly in­ci­dent for OC Transpo since 2013 when a bus was struck by a Via pas­sen­ger train at a level cross­ing near Fal­low­field Road. Six peo­ple died, in­clud­ing the bus driver. Both the West­boro and Fal­low­field buses in­volved OC Transpo’s dou­ble-decker Alexan­der Den­nis E500 buses. The city’s trans­porta­tion man­ager, John Man­coni, said a Trans­porta­tion Safety Board in­ves­ti­ga­tion after the 2013 crash found no faults with the vehicle.

“You re­call the TSB re­port was very crys­tal clear that there was no issue with the dou­ble-decker bus from a main­te­nance per­spec­tive, from OC Transpo’s re­quire­ments to main­tain them, we do pass all MTO in­spec­tions and so forth,” Man­coni told re­porters.

The city set up a post at the Churchill Se­niors Cen­tre to act as a re­cep­tion cen­tre for those both seeking in­for­ma­tion about fam­ily mem­bers they were un­able to reach and a warm­ing cen­tre for first re­spon­ders who had been at the scene.

Coun­sel­lors from the Ot­tawa po­lice’s vic­tims cri­sis unit were avail­able to as­sist fam­i­lies and wit­nesses of the crash. Work­ers from the Red Cross and the Sal­va­tion Army were also sta­tioned in­side.

Around 8 p.m., only about a dozen peo­ple en­tered the re­cep­tion cen­tre, many anx­ious about loved ones who they had not been able to con­tact. Very soon after the cen­tre opened, a cou­ple was re­united with their teenaged daugh­ter.

Kanata res­i­dent Mary Hawk­eye went to the cen­tre at about 7 p.m. after she was un­able to con­tact her 26-year-old son, who works in a down­town restau­rant.

“He left a cou­ple of hours ago,” she said be­fore go­ing in. “He’s not an­swer­ing his cell­phone. It goes di­rectly to voice mail. So we’re not re­ally sure,” she said. “Hope­fully, it’s good news.” Hawk­eye left the cen­tre a few min­utes later after her son called from home.

“We’re so re­lieved,” she said. “But we’re pray­ing for any­one who’s wait­ing. We’re pray­ing for those folks who haven’t heard any­thing yet.”

Peo­ple who are wor­ried about loved ones who may have been on the bus can call the Cana­dian Red Cross at 1-855-797-8875 for more in­for­ma­tion.

KARINA WIESER PHOTO

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