Wheelchair taxi drivers not following safety rules
Drivers fail to strap passengers in, some in Winnipeg say
Less than a year after a Winnipeg woman died following an accident in a wheelchair taxi van, the CBC I-Team has found that passengers are not always being properly secured in the vans.
Nancy Sikorski died on July 1, 2012, four days after an accident in which she came out of her wheelchair while travelling in an accessible taxi van.
"My brother and I really miss our mom," her son, David Sikorski, told CBC News in an interview this week.
"She was really special to us, and we hope that something can be done so that nobody else has to deal with this pain."
Hidden camera investigation
On Thursday, a CBC I-Team hidden camera investigation looks at how wheelchair passengers are being secured in taxis.
Winnipeg police and Manitoba's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are investigating the incident. They have not yet released their reports into what went wrong.
However, other people who use wheelchair van services say despite last year's fatal accident, drivers are not always securing the wheelchairs and passengers properly.
"If your wheelchair is not strapped in, it's you and the wheelchair going through the windshield — a pretty big projectile," said Laurie Helgason, a regular user of wheelchair vans.
"If you're not strapped in, you're the projectile. Either way, dead is dead — or badly hurt — and I think it's a safety concern."
Slid out of wheelchair
At age 78, Nancy Sikorski depended on a wheelchair and relied on a wheelchair van to get to a medical appointment one day last June. Her son was with her at the time.
David Sikorski said when it was time to go home after the appointment, he called Dependable Dispatch Service.
"I said goodbye … and I found out later that evening that there had been an accident," he said.
From her hospital bed, Nancy Sikorski told her family that she had slid out of her wheelchair when the driver hit the brakes.
She suffered several broken bones, her son said, and she was sent to Seven Oaks Hospital. She died four days later.
Under Manitoba's Taxicab Regulations, taxi drivers must ensure that wheelchairs are secured at four points.
Any wheelchair passenger under the age of 18 must wear a shoulder strap, attached to the vehicle, which acts as a seatbelt.
When it comes to adult passengers in wheelchairs, the drivers must inform the passenger of the availability of the shoulder belt — known as an occupant restraint system — and help the passenger attach the belt if help is requested.
However, if an adult passenger refuses to wear the shoulder belt, the driver would not be penalized. Instead, the passenger could be charged for violating the regulation.
David Sikorski said his mother's wheelchair was secured, but she was not wearing the shoulder belt.
"So essentially the wheelchair got strapped to the floor of the van, but she was able to fall out of the wheelchair because nothing was holding her in," he said.
Shoulder belt was declined before, says driver
The driver for Dependable Dispatch Service, Rajeev Vij, said he gave a statement to police.
Vij told CBC News he did strap down the wheelchair, but not the shoulder strap meant to stop the passenger from coming out of the chair.
He added that he did not offer the shoulder strap to Sikorski on the trip when the accident occurred because on previous occasions, when he had transported her, she told him she did not want to use it.
Vij said he cannot force a client to use the shoulder belt.
David Sikorski said he is troubled to hear that other wheelchair van passengers say they are being transported without safety belts and, at times, without the wheelchairs properly secured to the vehicle.
"It doesn't sit well with me, having been through what I've been through," he said.
"I've experienced the loss. Knowing that somebody out there may suffer the same fate is really disturbing."
Nancy Sikorski's death was not the first fatal accident involving a passenger who was not secured in a wheelchair van.
Anne Woloshen, 82, died in December 1997 after a Blueline taxi driver suddenly hit the brakes.
"She went flying out of the wheelchair," said Anne's son, Brad Woloshen.
"I was very bitter on the fact that after finding out that she had insisted on putting the seatbelt on, that the taxi driver didn't listen and knew better, and it resulted in her death. And that's the bottom line."
'This should not have happened'
A judicial inquest that was called to investigate Anne Woloshen's death resulted in the current rules that accessible taxi drivers are required to follow.
Brad Woloshen said he was shocked when Nancy Sikorski died following the wheelchair van accident last summer.
"I couldn't believe that the same thing could have happened," he said.
"I mean, what is this? This should not have happened," he added. "What is being done to make sure that doesn't happen again? This is two times already."
Laurie Helgason said she wants to see van drivers held accountable.
"I'd like to see that drivers have consequences when they don't follow the rules. And I'd like to see the driver's company also [have] some consequences, because part of it is not training them," she said.
David Sikorski said he wants to see tougher safety regulations put in place.
"The question comes to mind: how long can this be ignored? If a news story every 10 years is acceptable to lawmakers as a cost for improper restraints, then I feel like that's a crime in itself," he said.
"We should avoid having any more of these stories. It seems like a fairly simple solution to ensure proper restraint."
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