Dashcam footage seized from a truck that collided with a minibus full of seniors, killing 15, shows the bus pulled into the lane where the truck had the right-of-way, Manitoba RCMP said Friday.
“We don’t know why the bus proceeded into the (truck’s) lane, but that is something we’re going to continue to look into,” Supt. Rob Lasson told a news conference.
Lasson said they have not yet spoken with the driver of the bus, who remains in hospital along with nine other survivors of the fiery collision west of Winnipeg on Thursday.
The bus was crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, heading south on Highway 5, when the eastbound truck struck it.
Aerial photography of the crash scene shows that drivers heading across the Trans-Canada Highway would first have to obey a stop sign then, in the median between the opposite lanes, a yield sign.
Lasson stressed that it is early in the investigation and officers are still examining the mechanics of the vehicles, speeds and other potential factors.
“We are not assigning culpability or laying any blame at this time,” he said.
The truck driver has been released from hospital, Lasson added.
Identifying the victims
He said those on the bus headed to a casino for a day trip ranged in age from 58 to 88 — 19 of them women and six men.
Chief medical examiner John Younes said work continues on identifying those who died, using fingerprints, dental records and, if necessary, serial numbers on artificial hips and even DNA.
“The reason we have to undertake scientific means of identification is that most, if not all, of the deceased have significant facial trauma, so identifying them visually is not possible,” Younes said.
He said authorities hope to have post-mortem examinations done by Monday and identifications completed by the middle of next week.
Earlier Friday, hospital officials said six of the 10 in hospital were in critical condition, and that most of the survivors had head injuries and broken bones.
They were among a group of 25 seniors from Dauphin and the surrounding area on a trip to the Sand Hills Casino. The minibus departed from the Dauphin Active Living Centre before colliding with the semi-trailer truck near Carberry, 170 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
“This is an elderly cohort of patients, so recoveries will be long and, of course, can be complicated,” Dr. Shawn Young, chief operating officer of Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, told an earlier news conference Friday.
Flags at half mast
In Dauphin, flags were at half-mast as residents awaited word on the fate of loved ones.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now,” Brad Michaleski, the provincial legislature member for Dauphin, said in an interview. “We’re just trying to get a handle on how large an issue is this for our area and we’re patiently waiting (on) RCMP.”
Sandra Kaleta, who is involved with the Dauphin Active Living Centre, said she had considered going on the bus Thursday.
“I don’t know why I changed my mind,” Kaleta said. “I just did.”
She said she knew some of the people on the bus and played Scrabble every Tuesday with one of them.
“I have no idea how she is,” Kaleta said. “I think that’s the hardest part. I can’t imagine what some of these families are going through.”
Kaleta said she recalled everyone feeling excited about going to the casino. It wasn’t a trip that happened often, and the last one may have been before the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.
“It’s going to take years, not just days or months, (to recover).”
A community in shock
Dauphin resident Pat Woychik, 79, said he knows some of the people on the bus.
“I know quite a few, probably about eight or nine, maybe more. I don’t even know. I don’t know who was all on it,” Woychik said.
“They’re seniors. They’re retired. They have houses in town. They go to church at my church.
“(It’s a) very sad situation.”
Three of the people on the bus are tenants at St. George’s Place, a retirement home in Dauphin. Milton Mykolaishyn, with the home, said he and his colleagues are waiting for updates from family.
“We are really going to miss them, but we don’t know if they are in the hospital or they passed away,” Mykolaishyn said.
“Yesterday was a shock.”
He said there is a priest on site talking with other residents.
“There’s some tenants who were supposed to go on that trip, but luckily they had medical appointments. They are the ones who are taking it quite hard.”
Flags at half mast
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Montreal that the flag on the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill would also be lowered.
“I know that all of Canadians stand with people during this very, very difficult time,” he said. “There are lots of questions, but mostly there are lots of tears right now and we will be there for each other.”
The bus company, Quality Care Transit, posted on Facebook about the crash.
“We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to families and friends of our beloved clients and to our community as we work through this heart-wrenching situation,” it said.
The crash happened just before noon and police said road conditions were clear at the time.
Rescue crews encountered a horrific scene of bodies on the road.
The semi was still upright in a ditch, its front end crumpled, while the bus was on the grass a short distance away engulfed in flames that eventually burned it down to a blackened chassis.
Dauphin Mayor David Bosiak said everyone in the city of about 8,600 knows someone who was on the bus, and there’s a collective feeling of shock.
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