Pas­sen­gers in 2013 dis­as­ter of­fer ad­vice

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - JOANNE LAU­CIUS

Seek help. Seek help early. Talk to peo­ple you trust. Talk a lot.

Those are among the pieces of ad­vice given by sur­vivors of the Bar­rhaven bus-train col­li­sion that killed six peo­ple and sent 37 oth­ers to hos­pi­tal on Sept. 18, 2013.

Chad Mariage was at the back of the sec­ond level of the dou­ble-decker OC Transpo No. 76 on that day. He re­called watch­ing the fields slip past out the win­dow and read­ing emails on his cell­phone, only be­com­ing alarmed when he saw flash­ing lights and heard the shouts of fel­low pas­sen­gers. The bus was not slow­ing.

A pub­lic ser­vant and French Catholic school board trustee, Mariage walked away from that crash. He spent the next week at home be­fore re­turn­ing to work.

He was on a fam­ily va­ca­tion on Fri­day night when pho­tos of the Tran­sit­way crash started to land in his so­cial me­dia ac­count.

“When you saw the images, it brought back some very vivid mem­o­ries. It sent a chill up my spine,” he said Satur­day.

Mariage said it had helped to talk about what had hap­pened in 2013 as soon as pos­si­ble. He gave his first me­dia in­ter­view on the day of the crash and still re­sponds when asked.

“It al­lows me to keep the facts of the way I lived it straight in my head,” he said.

“Oth­er­wise you get into a spi­ral. It builds up. The de­tails of the event get blown up.”

He also took ad­van­tage of re­sources avail­able at work.

“There is no harm, no shame in get­ting help,” he said. “That’s what those re­sources are there for.”

Sham­sia Qu­raishi had em­i­grated from In­dia in 2013, only a year be­fore the bus-train crash. She was seated at the back of the sec­ond level of No. 76 on that day.

Now, a lit­tle more than five years later, she says there is a lot of help avail­able. At the time, though, she didn’t im­me­di­ately seek it out, even though it was of­fered. She thought oth­ers needed help more than she did and didn’t want to worry fam­ily mem­bers in In­dia.

“I was very blasé about my men­tal health. I didn’t un­der­stand about de­pres­sion and PTSD,” she said Satur­day.

Qu­raishi soon found her­self in a re­ally bad place. “I would come home and be re­ally fa­tigued. I was gain­ing weight. I was in­dulging in com­fort food,” she said.

Her doc­tor pre­scribed Vi­ta­min D and iron pills, but it was her mind, not her body, that was cry­ing out for help.

“You can’t ask for em­pa­thy from peo­ple who don’t have it. You find it by telling your story. Some peo­ple have it and some peo­ple don’t, and that’s fine. Not ev­ery­one has to give you the sup­port you need. You need to find that core group of peo­ple who have your back,” she said.

“There is a lot of sup­port. It’s just a mat­ter of reach­ing out.”

Her own ex­pe­ri­ence taught Qu­raishi to pri­or­i­tize men­tal health. The trauma be­came an op­por­tu­nity to dig deeper and pri­or­i­tize what was im­por­tant in life, she said.

“It made me a bet­ter per­son. I’m more em­pa­thetic to peo­ple who are go­ing through chal­lenges.”

Qu­raishi hasn’t touched ice cream in al­most a year and has joined a gym. She has moved twice since the 2013 crash and now lives in Or­léans. She still takes the bus, even the dou­ble-decker va­ri­ety, but never sits on the top level.

None of the sur­vivors of the No. 76 would deny that life can change in the blink of an eye, Mariage said. Like many sur­vivors, he won­ders what would have hap­pened if things had worked out dif­fer­ently.

“If we had been half a sec­ond faster, the train would have T-boned the bus. It would have been much worse,” said Mariage, now a fa­ther of two who lives in Kanata and still takes the bus to work.

Mariage urged sur­vivors of the Tran­sit­way crash on Fri­day to wait un­til the end of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to come to any con­clu­sions and to avoid mak­ing any as­sump­tions on what they might hear be­fore then.

For those sur­vivors, there will be one ma­jor dif­fer­ence. The 2013 crash also killed OC Transpo bus driver Dave Woodard. Tests found no al­co­hol or drugs in his sys­tem. He had no press­ing med­i­cal con­di­tion, wasn’t dis­tracted by a cell­phone or ex­hibit­ing reck­less be­hav­iour, the Trans­porta­tion Safety Board found in a re­port in 2015.

DAVID KaWAI

The ex­tent of dam­age to the up­per deck of the bus that crashed into the West­boro Tran­sit­way sta­tion on Fri­day af­ter­noon is re­vealed as the wreck­age is towed from the scene. Three peo­ple were killed and as of Sun­day night seven re­mained in se­ri­ous con­di­tion in The Ot­tawa Hos­pi­tal.

Sham­sia Qu­raishi

Chad Mariage

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