Bus driver remembers little of fatal crash

The woman who was driving a school bus that crashed in 2007, killing a Calgary girl on board, says she remembers what she had for breakfast that day but nothing of the collision itself.

Driver was suicidal, taking sleeping pills before collision

The school bus crashed into a parked gravel truck, which was experiencing mechanical problems, and then a light pole on Crowchild Trail.

The woman who was driving a school bus that crashed in 2007, killing a Calgary girl on board, says she remembers what she had for breakfast that day, but nothing of the collision itself.

Kathelynn Occena, 9, was killed when the bus careened onto the shoulder of Crowchild Trail on Oct. 18, 2007, smashing into a gravel truck and then hitting a light pole. Eleven other children on the 30-passenger bus suffered mostly minor injuries and were taken to hospital.

Testifying Monday at a provincial inquiry into the crash, bus driver Louise Rogers outlined the personal turmoil she was going through in the months before the fatal incident.

In 2007, Rogers temporarily separated from her husband and was living with another man. She had converted to Islam and had begun wearing a hijab head-covering.

Louise Rogers, who was driving a Calgary school bus when it crashed in October 2007 killing a girl on board, walks out of the Calgary courthouse on Monday. ((CBC))

She said her history of mental illness had sent her to hospital several times. She went on stress leave in the spring but in September 2007, she tried to kill herself by overdosing on pills.

That same fall, Rogers, 42, said she was taking antidepressants and sleeping pills, prescribed by her family doctor.

The bus driver said the Third Academy, her employer, was aware of her personal problems. She visited regularly with the school's psychologist — at her manager, Arlene Waldner's suggestion — to talk about her personal issues.

Rogers testified she took the prescribed amount of medication the night before the crash, and she woke up the next morning in a good mood.  But while Rogers remembered that she ate toast for breakfast that morning, the memories of the crash itself are a blank, she testified.

Kathelynn Occena, 9, was killed in the crash. ((CBC))

The bus was taking children to two private schools in Calgary's southwest that day. Occena and her sister were the last two passengers onboard before the bus turned onto Crowchild Trail.

Rogers admitted it was possible that she dozed off. She said she can't remember if she made any evasive manoeuvres or even hit the brakes after the bus hit the parked truck, which had pulled over because of mechanical problems.

"I remember I didn't know what I hit," she said. "I kept going and hit a pole and I was like, oh my god, what did I do?"

Was listening to iPod

The driver conceded she was listening to an iPod at the time, but insisted only one of the digital media player's ear buds was tucked into her head scarf.

She denied using a cellphone before the crash, but admitted she had answered the phone in the past while driving.

Rogers pleaded guilty in September 2008 to a single charge of careless driving under the Traffic Safety Act. She was fined $2,300 — the maximum penalty allowed — and her driver's licence was suspended for 90 days.

Rogers is currently unemployed. She worked as a lunchroom supervisor at another school before becoming a school bus driver in 2004.

The provincial fatality inquiry is not intended to assess blame but is looking at training and bus safety in this case after the accident raised concerns about the standards and qualifications of school bus drivers.

With files from Brooks Decillia