Fatal bus crash didn't warrant criminal charges: police

Calgary police are defending their decision not to lay a criminal charge of dangerous driving in a bus crash that claimed the life of a nine-year-old girl last fall.

Victim's mother 'extremely upset' at decision

Calgary police are defending their decision not to lay a criminal charge of dangerous driving in a bus crash that claimed the life of nine-year-old girl last fall.

But the mother of crash victim Kathelynn Occena is "extremely upset" with that decision, a family friend says.

Police believe the school bus struck a gravel truck parked on the side of the road. ((CBC))

Sgt. Doug McIlwraith said it took investigators more than five months to sift through eyewitness accounts and other evidence from the Oct. 18 crash on Crowchild Trail, which cost Occena her life.

"Dealing with kids who are young, we knew we were likely going to get several different versions of the events," McIlwraith said.

"We did search warrants. We did an extensive in-depth investigation to all the allegations to best determine what was factual and what was not, and in the end … we felt we had a case to support three charges under the Highway Traffic Safety Act."

There was no evidence to support allegations that bus driver Louise Rogers was talking on a cellphone or dozing at the time of the crash, McIlwraith said, adding that police believe the accident was caused by an unexplained momentary loss of attention.

However, Occena's mother is said to be devastated criminal charges haven't been laid, said family friend Carol Magliocca, whose daughter Amber was one of the children hurt in the crash.

"She is extremely upset," Magliocca said. "We lost a life here, and for no reason. She just can't believe the charges."

Carol Magliocca's husband, Biagio Magliocca, said the lack of criminal charges is pathetic given the deadly outcome.

"It's just unbelievable," he said. "It's just not fair. A child is gone."

Colleen Ryan, vice principal of Mountain View Academy, where Occena was a pupil, said that while some parents are outraged the driver is not facing criminal charges, others feel compassion should outweigh anger.

"Nothing will bring Kathelynn back — no amount of jail time, no amount of sorrow, and no amount of vengeance," Ryan said. "As Christian educators, it is not our role to judge others. Rather, we have a moral obligation to teach forgiveness, which is part of the healing process."

Charges under the Traffic Safety Act against Rogers, 40, include operating a motor vehicle in a careless manner, making a lane change unsafely and crossing a solid line when it could not be done safely. She is to appear in provincial court on April 15.

Kathelynn Occena, 9, died in the October bus crash.

The penalty for each charge is a maximum $2,000 fine, and/or six months in jail and a possible licence suspension, police said.

Investigators said they believe the school bus drifted into the shoulder of the right lane of the highway and struck a parked gravel truck. The impact sheared off the passenger side of the bus and caused the driver to lose control and hit a light pole.

The bus was carrying children to two private schools on the Currie Barracks. All 11 children on the 30-passenger bus suffered various injuries and were taken to hospital, where Occena died.

At least one parent whose daughter rides the bus to one of the schools said she has noticed a change for the better since the accident.

Linda McKay-Panos, whose daughter attends The Third Academy, said she has noticed an improvement in the care other bus drivers are taking now.

"I felt pretty good about allowing my child to ride the bus," McKay-Panos said. "I felt pretty secure that things were being watched more carefully and with more vigilance."

With files from Canadian Press