Once first responders completed their urgent work and the injured were cared for, a team of investigators got to business trying to answer the question: What happened at Westboro Station on Friday afternoon?
The crash that killed three and injured 23 turned a busy rush hour into a scene of chaos and death Friday, with dozens of first responders tending to the injured and ambulance after ambulance shuttling victims to hospital.
What caused the No. 269 double-decker bus headed for Bridlewood to veer into the bus shelter at Westboro Station just before 4 p.m. Friday? Investigators have already begun trying to find answers.
Six collision officers have been assigned to the investigation, Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau said Friday, and they were working through the night and into the morning to document the scene.
Police arrested the driver shortly after the crash, something that surprised Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 president Clint Crabtree. “I just want them to do a proper investigation,” he said. The bus driver was questioned by police on Friday night.
At a 7 p.m. press conference, Bordeleau explained the first steps investigators would take.
“Our investigative unit involved with collisions is speaking to witnesses, gathering evidence. We’ll seize any video that may have been available in the area to determine exactly what caused this collision.”
Ottawa police are working with OC Transpo, Transport Canada and the provincial Ministry of Transportation, whose inspectors are studying the badly damaged bus.
“This will be a long investigation,” said Bordeleau.
The bus was equipped with video cameras, which might play a role in the investigation.
For many in Ottawa, the crash brought back memories of an earlier deadly crash that also involved an OC Transpo double-decker bus — the 2013 bus-train crash that killed six people in Barrhaven. The damage to the upper decks of the double-decker buses in each crash was eerily similar. In both cases, victims were thrown from the damaged upper levels of the buses.
The Transportation Safety Board conducted a lengthy investigation after the 2013 crash that focused on driver distraction and the level train crossing, among other things.
OC Transpo head John Manconi said Friday the Transportation Safety Board found no fault with OC Transpo’s fleet of double-decker buses during its investigation.
“There was nothing that pointed to double deckers being a concern.”
Manconi said the city has done everything it was required to do as a result of the Transportation Safety Board post-crash recommendations.
However, TSB investigators did make a recommendation about the “crashworthiness” of commercial passenger buses to reduce the risk of injury. The TSB called on the federal government to develop and implement standards, something that has not been done.
“In this case, the bus met all applicable federal safety standards. Yet unlike automobiles and school buses, there were no requirements for impact, roll over or crush protection. A more robust, crashworthy design may have reduced damage to the bus and prevented loss of life in this accident,” TSB chair Kathy Fox said at the time.
Asked whether the crashworthiness of the bus was a concern, Manconi replied: “That is not a concern I have.”
The bus did not have a black box, or vehicle data recorder, similar to ones on airplanes. The TSB recommended them for commercial passenger buses after the 2013 train/bus crash, saying they would enable “safety improvements as well as comprehensive and timely accident investigation.”
Friday’s weather is something investigators will likely pay attention to.
Eyewitnesses told this newspaper that the westbound bus jumped a curb in the transitway before smashing into the bus shelter.
One witness described seeing the bus sliding on ice before the crash. Another passenger on an earlier bus at Tunney’s Pasture described it sliding into a curb as it headed along the transitway.
The temperature Friday afternoon was around -15 C with a windchill warning in effect.
“Road conditions and thorough examination of all the environment around the collision scene is part of the investigative process and that will be part of the final report as to helping us determine what exactly took place,” said Bordeleau.
The numbers of victims and passengers involved in the crash and the fact that it occurred on the city’s public transportation system makes the investigation both urgent and complex. But that doesn’t mean answers will come quickly.
“The entire OC Transpo family is moving through this process and working diligently throughout the night,” said Manconi. “There’s still a great deal of work to do. It’s a multi-departmental effort and we’re pulling together to continue to provide resources and answers during this tragedy.”
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