Bus crash victim's family sues bus driver, City of Ottawa

The family of one victim from September's fatal crash between an OC Transpo bus and Via Rail train is suing the city and the bus driver, the first lawsuit filed in connection to the crash.

Michael Bleakney and 5 others died in crash between OC Transpo bus, Via Rail train in September

Michael Bleakney's family filed a lawsuit against the city and bus driver David Woodard's estate. 2:50

The family of a victim in the fatal Ottawa bus-train crash is suing the City of Ottawa and the bus driver alleging negligence.

Michael Bleakney, 57, was one of six people killed in the September crash in the south Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven when an OCTranspo bus drove into the path of an oncoming Via Rail passenger train.

The statement of claim names the City of Ottawa and the estate of the 45-year-old bus driver, Dave Woodard, as defendants.

Michael Bleakney, 57, was one of six people killed in September's bus-train crash in the south Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven. (Ottawa Police Service)

Woodard, who was driving the double-decker bus when it crashed, was killed along with Bleakney, Karen Krzyzewski, Rob More and Carleton University students and friends, Connor Boyd and Kyle Nash.

The lawsuit says Bleakney’s widow, Kathryn, and the couple’s four children are owed $1.8 million for the loss of care, guidance and companionship.

The statement of claim makes a number of allegations against Woodard, including that he:

  • Failed to see the train on the tracks "though it was in clear view".
  • Observed and heard flashing lights, lowered gates and ringing bells at crossing, but failed to stop and continued through crossing.
  • Drove in a "dangerous, careless or reckless manner" and was speeding.
  • Fell asleep at the wheel and was ill.
  • Did not give proper warning to his passengers before driving through crossing.
  • Didn’t apply brakes properly or was operating bus with defective brakes.
  • Disregarded screams and warning from passengers who asked him to stop.
  • Was impaired by fatigue and/or alcohol and/or prescription or non-prescription drugs.
  • Was an “incompetent driver” lacking in reasonable care, skill, ability and training and shouldn’t have been operating the bus.
  • Was operating a bus when he should have known it was not in proper mechanical condition.
The lawsuit also alleges the City of Ottawa allowed Woodard to drive the bus when it should have known he was incompetent or impaired, hired Woodard without adequately ensuring he was qualified and allowed the bus to be driven despite its mechanical condition.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

The Bleakney family lawyer, Howard Yegendorf, confirmed he is representing the family in a lawsuit surrounding the crash but he would not add any further details.

'Early for blame', union boss says

The president of the union representing OC Transpo bus drivers said he had not seen the statement of claim. But Craig Watson did say he was not surprised to see a lawsuit filed.

Dave Woodard was killed when the OC Transpo bus he was driving collided with a Via Rail passenger train. (Facebook)
​​“We are just a little surprised it came this early and the lawsuit is already trying to blame various parties. We think it is a little early for blame to be placed,” said Watson, adding the Transportation Safety Board of Canada should finish its investigation before laying blame.

“I believe that would be the time when you would start to consider where the blame lies or possible faults or what really happened."

The crash was the worst involving a bus in Ottawa’s history and Watson said it continues to plague his employees’ day-to-day work.

“It is still fresh in our minds and stories like this don't help," said Watson.

“It's one of those unfortunate events we wish had never happened. It is in the back of everybody's mind.”

The Transportation Safety Board said it could take several months before the report on the crash is complete.