Egan: A double-decker, the dead, the injured, the comfort reshattered

For more than five years after the Ottawa train-bus disaster of Sept. 18, 2013, a photo of victim Kyle Nash has been clipped by my computer screen, where I see him and he sees me.

Lots of people have asked why. Because they die so suddenly, so senselessly, good people just trying to get somewhere — that day on the bus, with their lives in general, their safety entrusted to our public transit system. Because I have a boy roughly that age. Because we should never forget fortune’s fickle wreckage. Because it just shouldn’t be.

And now at least three more dead, many more injured. And a city gasps again. How can this happen?

First responders attend to victims of a horrific rush hour bus crash at the Westboro Station near Tunney’s Pasture.

It was a horrible scene Friday, so bad the OC Transpo double-decker was hard to make out in all of the debris, deep in a trench below the city’s skin, made more gaudy with blinding emergency lights of red and blue. Fluorescent-vested first responders were climbing up a ladder, throwing parts of the battered bus onto the roadway as the sun set on a hellishly cold afternoon. Stretchers waited on the asphalt, white sheets hanging off like shrouds.

Roads were taped off, commuters were left standing in the cold as the transit system dealt with its broken spine. Person after person urgently asked: how bad is it?

About an hour or so after the crash, passengers on Route 269 started emerging through the Westboro Station doors leading to Scott Street. It was very bad.

Most walked by a gaggle of reporters, some on the verge of tears. One woman was good enough to talk to me for a moment as we headed west along the path on Scott.

“I remember hearing the bus driver saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God’,” she said.

And isn’t that everything? Because what could the earthly reason be?

First responders attend to victims of a horrific rush hour bus crash at the Westboro Station near Tunney’s Pasture.

Public transit is a forgettable, everyday habit for tens of thousands of us. It’s supposed to be boring. Nothing special is meant to happen getting from here to there. Until the routine is broken with horrible violence: glass shattering, steel bending, bodies thrown about, blood leaking, strangers suddenly become nurses.

“There was glass everywhere,” she said. “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.”

A patient is taken to an ambulance as first responders attend to victims of a horrific rush hour bus crash at the Westboro Station near Tunney’s Pasture.

We know this, too, from 2013. It isn’t over tomorrow or this weekend or this month for these passengers, for these families. It is never over for the family of Kyle Nash. We learned then about trauma that lingered. We learned about a suicide traced to the crash. We know the self-examination will be long and hard.

Just as happened with the VIA crash, so many people reacted with what ifs and what could have been. I use that station, or I take that bus, or how could one possibly not be safe on a bus platform on a separated roadway where regular traffic does not even travel?

And again, as at the Fallowfield Station in 2013, a double-decker. The usual questions will arise, as many drivers don’t particularly like driving these models. Was it mechanically sound? Is the braking system what it should be? Are the extra monitors — to check the upper level — an added distraction a driver doesn’t need? Was the angle of the sun an issue?

A scene at the Scott Street entrance to Westboro Station as first responders attend to victims of a horrific rush hour bus crash at the Westboro Station near Tunney’s Pasture.

Possibly, there will be questions about the Transitway design. Should the familiar red-frame overhangs be installed at a level where they can take out the upper floor of a bus? Should they be retracted? Should they be there at all?

And more reporters will have more photos pinned to their desks. Because the bus is supposed to be safe, comfort in numbers. Because this just shouldn’t be.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or email kegan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn


MORE COVERAGE

Three dead in double-decker bus crash at Westboro Station, 23 others injured

‘I’m just terrified, it’s absolutely heartbreaking’: Quotes from the tragic Westboro bus crash

A history of OC Transpo bus crashes

Ottawa bus crash: Who to call if you need help

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