No quick answers in Ottawa bus crash
Complicated investigation of deadly collision demands ‘painstaking’ process, says police chief
OTTAWA — Investigators from three levels of government spent Saturday trying to piece together the cause of Friday’s tragic crash of an OC Transpo bus at Westboro Transitway station that left three people dead and 23 injured.
The wrecked double-decker bus was towed from the station Saturday afternoon.
Ottawa police collision unit investigators remain at the heart of the complicated probe into why the packed bus, a popular run en route to suburban Kanata, left the road and smashed into the station.
It struck the station’s overhanging weather cover, tearing off most of the bus’s upper level.
At a news conference, police chief Charles Bordeleau stressed the complicated nature of the investigation and said police were determined to go through it “step by step.”
Although the driver of the double-decker bus was taken into custody at the scene, she was released unconditionally pending further investigation on Friday night. Bordeleau urged people “not to read anything into” the driver’s arrest and questioning.
The chief said provincial and federal transportation experts were also on the scene, but Ottawa police were leading the inquiry.
Sgt. Cameron Graham, who oversees collision investigations, said the specialized unit would be flying drones over the scene to get aerial photos.
A large part of the investigation will focus on assessing what police call “human factors.” That will include looking at the driver, her driving record, her medical record and whether she was distracted at the time of the crash.
Bordeleau called it a “painstaking” process but “at the end of the investigation, we will have determined exactly what took place.”
Once investigators clear the scene there will likely be further cleanup and repair work needed to the station.
The Ottawa Hospital reported it still had one patient in critical condition, six in serious condition, and four were stable. The hospital reported Friday night it had received 18 patients at two of its centres, nine of them judged to be in critical condition. The Queensway Carleton Hospital said seven of the eight patients admitted Friday night had been discharged, but one remained in serious condition.
In a statement early Saturday, Ottawa police said that investigators worked through the night to identify the three victims on westbound bus route 269 and to notify their families and loved ones.
The performance of the double-decker buses is one of many considerations being investigated, police said.
The city began looking into buying double-decker buses more than a dozen years ago after indications from other municipalities that the vehicles could offer a better transit experience and could even help increase ridership.
Key considerations included the fact the buses offered unique views of the streetscape from the upper level and had more seats (84 versus 54) than the lengthy articulated, or “accordion” buses, used as high-capacity vehicles for public transit.
This was a major consideration for customers facing long rides. The shorter double-decker buses also took up less space at bus stops.
Soon after the city took possession of its first batch of double-deckers in 2013, the union representing drivers flagged concerns about performance during high winds after two double-deckers were pushed off the road.
One veteran driver also said that operators are specifically warned to avoid the overhangs on the Transitway stations.
“The first thing they taught us was stay the hell away from the structures at the stations because you’re not going to clear them,” said the operator, speaking on condition that he would not be named for fear of losing his job.
There have also been exhaust fume leaks, condensation issues, and, in 2013, two of the tall buses actually flipped off a windy section of open stretch of roadway during a bad winter storm.
Allan Hubley, the city’s new transit chair and longtime Kanata councillor, was affected both in his job and personally because a member of his extended family was in critical condition following the crash.
Hubley said he spent time meeting with people after the crash before heading to city hall for the evening news conference. He’s been in close contact with transportation general manager John Manconi.
A few families have contacted Hubley for assistance. He talked to a mother whose son was in the hospital. Another passenger needed help retrieving her possessions.
Hubley said he’s focused on helping his constituents.
He said Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder contacted him shortly after the crash, since she was in a similar situation in 2013 when a double-decker bus collided with a Via Rail train in her community.
Six people died in that collision.
“She’s walked this path. This whole thing has made it very fresh for her.”
Police announced Saturday evening that the collisions unit had completed its documentation of the crash scene and had reopened the local roads around the Transitway.
Police chief Charles Bordeleau At the end of the investigation, we will have determined exactly what took place.”
Ottawa police and first responders work at the scene where a double-decker city bus struck a transit shelter. Three people were killed and 23 injured in the crash during the Friday afternoon rush hour.
Upper seats from the double-decker Ottawa city bus that struck a transit shelter on Friday were flung along a walkway more than 10 metres from the crash site.