Driver in deadly bus crash fast, aggressive: witness

Minutes before a fatal crash, a Calgary school bus driver drove aggressively after having to wait for two children at a stop, a student on the bus told an inquiry.
An inquiry into the fatal Calgary school bus crash in October 2007 heard testimony that Louise Rogers was driving aggressively. ((CBC))

Minutes before a fatal crash, a Calgary school bus driver drove aggressively after having to wait for two children at a stop, a student on the bus told an inquiry.

Kathelynn Occena, 9, died on Oct. 18, 2007, when the bus driven by Louise Rogers swerved onto the shoulder of busy Crowchild Trail, smashed into a parked gravel truck, and then hit a light pole.

Coleton Patton, who sat in the middle of the bus one row behind Occena, told the inquiry on Tuesday that Rogers seemed to be trying to make up for lost time after having to wait for Kathelynn and her sister to arrive at the bus stop. 

"She started driving more aggressive," Patton, now 16, said. 

"She passed a couple [of] people," he added after being asked to elaborate.

Patton, who testified via video link from Kelowna, B.C., said that Rogers spoke on her cellphone as often as twice per day. She also had an MP3 player and a Game Boy on the dash of the bus, the teenager said.

Loueye Haymour, left, who testified at the provincial inquiry, is seen at the crash site in 2007. ((CBC))

Patton said he does not remember the crash, only waking up with a firefighter holding his head steady.

Another student who was at the back of the bus, Loueye Haymour, now 18, said he saw Rogers — through a mirror at the front of the bus — putting "wires in her ears," what he thought might have been an iPod. That made him nervous, he added. 

The inquiry heard Monday from Calgary police Const. Robert Pughe that Rogers admitted after the collision to using the digital media player and possibly falling asleep.

Pughe said that cellphone records and toxicology reports confirmed Rogers was not talking on the phone or abusing prescription drugs at the time of the crash.

Witness claims bus driver ran red light

The inquiry also heard from a retired city bus driver Tuesday who claimed he saw Rogers run a red light on Harvest Hills Boulevard N.E. the day before the crash.

Pierre Lamarche testified that moments later, he saw the bus again, and it swung across three lanes, cutting him off.

Kathelynn Occena, 9, was killed when her school bus crashed into a parked gravel truck and then a light standard. ((Family photo))

"I thought that the bus was being driven unprofessionally in a very aggressive fashion," he said.

Lamarche said he called the Third Academy, the private school that owns the bus, and left several messages. He heard about the crash the following day, he added.

"I've seen a lot of bad drivers out there — typically private vehicles or motorcycles or whatever — and it takes something special for me to get involved with it," Lamarche told reporters on Tuesday.

The bus was heading to the Third Academy and the Mountain View Academy, another private school that shares the same building, when it crashed. All 11 children on the 30-passenger bus suffered various injuries and were taken to hospital.

Rogers, 42, 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.

Provincial fatality inquiries do not find blame, but the probe is looking at driver training and bus safety in this case to prevent similar occurrences.

With files from Leighton Klassen