Inquiry into fatal Calgary crash suggests changes

A provincial fatality inquiry into a bus crash that killed a nine-year-old Calgary girl almost four years ago was not able to make recommendations to prevent a similar accident from happening again, a judge says.

A provincial fatality inquiry about a bus crash that killed a nine-year-old Calgary girl almost four years ago was not able to make recommendations to prevent a similar accident from happening again, a judge says.

Kathelynn Occena, 9, was killed when her school bus crashed into a parked gravel truck on a Calgary expressway in 2007. (Family photo)
But Calgary provincial court Judge Bruce Fraser's findings released on Thursday do highlight deficiencies in the selection and training of bus drivers and the safety of children on buses.

Kathelynn Occena, 9, was killed on Oct. 18, 2007 when the school bus she was riding in swerved onto the shoulder of Crowchild Trail, hit a parked gravel truck, and slammed into a light pole, shearing off the entire right side of the bus.

After a five-month investigation, police decided in March 2008 that there were not sufficient grounds to lay criminal charges against the driver of the bus, Louise Rogers.

However, Rogers was charged with several Traffic Safety Act offences.

She pleaded guilty to careless driving and was fined $2,000, plus a $300 victim fine surcharge, and had her driver's licence suspended for 90 days.

The provincial inquiry into the fatal crash heard testimony for several weeks last spring. It heard that Rogers had several complaints lodged against her for distracted and aggressive driving.

An inquiry report into the 2007 crash that killed Kathelynn Occena makes several suggestions for improving shcool bus safety. (CBC)
Rogers told the inquiry she had been taking antidepressants and sleeping pills to deal with personal problems, including a suicide attempt, in the months leading up to the crash.

The inquiry also revealed that Rogers was listening to music on an iPod, with the sound coming from ear buds in her hijab.

In his final report Fraser concluded that all the testimony suggested Rogers was not affected by drugs on the day of the accident, and that her mental health issues were not in evidence.

"She was either completely distracted or she was in a state of sleep," Fraser said.

"If that is what occurred, there is no way to have prevented this accident and fatality in the circumstances, as tragic as it is."

Fraser made several recommendations for improving the safety of school bus travel in Alberta:

  • Make new drivers pass a comprehensive medical examination before being allowed to transport children.
  • Require a medical professional's note before a driver  — or a prospective driver — who has had mental health problems can be employed.
  • Make it mandatory to inform employers about any new mental or physical health issues.
  • Have bus drivers submit to random drug testing.
  • Require disclosure of "any and all medications" being taken.
  • Investigate the feasibility of installing video surveillance on buses.
  • Adopt new hiring recommendations laid out by Alberta Transportation last year, which included requiring driver qualifications to include the defensive driving, 'S' endorsement.
  • Ban the use of handheld devices while driving.

Fraser also suggested that the province should re-assess the safety of school buses where the passenger compartment protrudes out past the cab or engine compartment.

Ocenna's seat on the 30-passenger bus was in that section, which bore the brunt of the impact with the gravel truck, the inquiry heard.