Iowa stu­dent killed in B.C. bus crash mourned

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Camille BAINS

VIC­TO­RIA — One of two 18-yearold stu­dents who died when a tour bus crashed on Van­cou­ver Is­land is be­ing re­mem­bered by his for­mer prin­ci­pal as a friend to every­one at the Iowa high school where he was a tal­ented soc­cer player.

John Geerdes grad­u­ated from Iowa City High School this year be­fore en­rolling at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria.

“He was very ex­cited about study­ing at the univer­sity there,” school prin­ci­pal John Ba­con said Mon­day.

Geerdes was killed when a char­ter bus car­ry­ing 45 stu­dents and two teach­ing as­sis­tants crashed on a gravel road be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties of Port Al­berni and Bam­field late Fri­day.

Ba­con said he emailed par­ents and stu­dents on Satur­day af­ter learn­ing about the crash and a cri­sis team will be at the school to pro­vide coun­selling.

Geerdes has four sib­lings in­clud­ing a sis­ter at the school of 1,600 stu­dents, who are mourning the loss of Geerdes, he said.

“It’s just a huge loss for a lot of peo­ple.” Ba­con said the school’s close-knit soc­cer team has also been hard hit by Geerdes’s death.

“They spent a cou­ple of hours with their coach just shar­ing sto­ries and I think that re­ally helped those guys.”

The RCMP said an 18-year-old woman from Win­nipeg was also killed in the crash, but nei­ther the provin­cial coroner’s ser­vice nor the Moun­ties have re­leased the names of the stu­dents.

More than a dozen stu­dents were in­jured in the crash on the re­mote road on their way to the Bam­field Ma­rine Sci­ence Cen­tre.

Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria spokes­woman Denise Helm said one stu­dent re­mained in hos­pi­tal on Mon­day but she could not pro­vide any de­tails.

Stu­dents from sev­eral univer­si­ties at­tend the ma­rine sci­ence cen­tre and stu­dents from the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria have been tak­ing field trips there ev­ery fall for at least 18 years, she said.

Stella Peters of the Huu-ay-aht First Na­tion said she and her hus­band James Nooke­mus drove past the scene where she saw a bus down an em­bank­ment be­tween 9 and 9:30 p.m. on the rainy night.

“(I saw) about 30, 35 kids stand­ing on the side of the road, peo­ple fran­tic see­ing the bus over the side,” James said. “The boys were try­ing to help some of the other stu­dents out of the bus. They were try­ing to get them up the bank. There was quite a drop, a steep em­bank­ment.”

The stu­dents wanted the cou­ple to call 911 but there was no cell­phone ser­vice in the area, Peters said.

“We had to keep driv­ing just to try and get cell ser­vice and it was 20, 25 min­utes later that we ac­tu­ally were able to get through. We were both on our cell­phones and James fi­nally got through to 911,” Peters said.

“You should be able to reach peo­ple on your cell­phone out there.”

Peters said she’s think­ing of all the stu­dents, and es­pe­cially of the fam­i­lies whose chil­dren have died.

“Our hearts go out to their fam­i­lies.” Robert Den­nis, chief coun­cil­lor for the Huu-ay-aht who ar­rived at the scene about 20 min­utes af­ter Peters and her hus­band, said he has called for a re­view of the emer­gency re­sponse pro­to­col be­cause of the lack of cell ser­vice.

“I’m wor­ried and scared and you worry about any­body go­ing on that road,” he said, adding high-fre­quency ra­dios could be in­stalled in ve­hi­cles so com­mu­ni­ca­tion is re­ceived in Port Al­berni and Bam­field.

“That’s why in our com­mu­nity we let each other know where we’re go­ing be­cause we know it could be hours be­fore any­body passes you in an­other ve­hi­cle. Es­pe­cially at night time.”

The crash re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but po­lice said Mon­day that al­co­hol has been ruled out as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor.

In a state­ment, the RCMP said the driver of a sec­ond ve­hi­cle who was in the area at the time of the crash re­mained at the scene.

Over the com­ing weeks, the Moun­ties said in­ves­ti­ga­tors will work to de­ter­mine the cause of the crash, which in­cludes an­a­lyz­ing more than 40 state­ments that were taken.


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