British Columbia·Point of View

'You probably saved his life': TransLink bus driver rescues passenger from watery ditch

“I’ve had situations over the years, I’ve been driving for 34 years but never had to do that before,” he said.

When a man bolted from his bus and disappeared into the night, Richie Stanley decided to find him

Richie Stanley, who has been driving buses since 1985, said he's faced instances where he's had to help passengers in the past, but none where he had to prevent a drowning. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

This is CBC reporter Justin McElroy's account of his bus ride home on Oct. 1, 2018.  

You're on a bus and a passenger starts behaving erratically. He stomps up and down the aisle, sways side to side and becomes angry when people won't dance with him.

Spend enough time on public transit and this situation isn't too hard to imagine. 

But at 10 p.m. on the Lougheed Highway, heading back from a campaign event in Pitt Meadows on a bus with 10 other passengers, things feel a little more tense. 

And when that passenger collapses after appearing to have a seizure? And then wakes up four minutes later, sprints off the bus and veers into traffic while running on the side of the highway?

All sorts of things could go through your head. But bus driver Richie Stanley only had one.  

"I'm going to go find him," he told us.  

Stanley had phoned TransLink and emergency personnel five minutes earlier after the seizure. But given the place and time, he knew it might be awhile. 

So he decided to try and make sure the man was safe.

"My only thought is this guy's got a family, and that's what I was thinking, and I just didn't want anything to happen to him," said Stanley, a bus driver since 1985. 

After a couple hundred metres of driving, there were no traces of the passenger and no intersections — only a wide ditch alongside the Lougheed Highway, surrounded by a thicket of bushes. 

Stanley got out of the bus with another passenger and started walking along the stretch of highway he had just driven. 

"We started searching, looking for breaks in the bush. Eventually, we did find a break, and we could hear a little bit of sloshing around," he said.

"We weren't quite sure what it was. We got down with a cell phone flashlight, and we could see him there."

'I gave him my coat ... and tried to pull him out'

Stanley walked into the watery ditch. 

"I gave him my coat, one end, and tried to pull him out. After awhile, he was losing his strength, so I had to get down there and hold his wrist, put him on his side and hang on until the police came," he said. 

"We were probably there for 10 minutes, but it seemed like a lot longer, holding that guy up, so he didn't sink back down under the water."

During that time, passengers wondered when emergency personnel would show up and shared the concerns they had in the minutes before the man had a seizure — that mixture of fear and empathy that dart through our brains in such situations. 

Eventually, a police officer arrived on scene.

He helped Stanley pull the man out and the two of them restrained the passenger — still clearly in an unstable state of mind — until backup arrived. A few passengers were briefly interviewed, and we all got back on the bus. 

"You OK?" said a TransLink employee who had also arrived on scene, ready to take the wheel if need be. "You probably saved his life." 

"Was a bit shaky, but I'm good now," replied Stanley. 

A few minutes later — and about an hour after the situation began — we pulled into Coquitlam Central, the last stop on the route. I introduced myself and asked if I could share his story. 

"I've had situations over the years. I've been driving for 34 years but never had to do that before," he said.

"It's gratifying to know he's going to be OK. God knows what would have happened if we had just left and not found him."  

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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