Calgary

Parents of teen thrill-seekers hope safety changes emerge from inquiry into bobsled-track deaths

Eight southern Alberta families say they are forever connected by that fateful night at WinSport in 2016 when a group of teens broke into Canada Olympic Park, rode plastic toboggans down the bobsled track, and crashed.

Twins Evan and Jordan Caldwell died, several others injured, when toboggans crashed on bobsled track

This section of track, where the bobsled and luge tracks intersect at Canada Olympic Park, is where an after-hours incident in 2016 resulted in the deaths of two young men and left six others injured. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

The parents of eight teens who broke into the grounds at WinSport after hours in February 2016 to ride plastic toboggans down the bobsled track with deadly consequences, issued a joint statement saying it won't be easy reliving the events from that fateful night, but hope the fatality inquiry will result in security and safety changes around the track.

"We pray that the public fatality inquiry's objective will be successful so that no family will have to experience similar tragedy and loss at the WinSport facility."

Twin brothers Evan and Jordan Caldwell, 17, died. Some of the six surviving teens received serious, life-altering injuries. Others walked away unhurt during the crash.

Clyde Carr, father of 20-year-old David Carr, who received a brain injury, said he and some of the other parents, including the Caldwells, will be attending.

"We're really encouraged that they're doing an inquiry like this, with the goal of being able to improve security measures to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

"It was too easy for people to hop the fence and it needs to be clear that the bobsled track is not safe for anyone to just hop on and go sliding down."

Some of the parents said afterwards, they, like others in Calgary, heard rumours of others pulling similar stunts in the past, although WinSport has denied being aware of such incidents.

"That's been our sense that this has been a fairly strong pastime in Calgary since the Olympics, to go and do this, among young people, so we're just grateful that no other tragedies have happened thus far and we just hope it doesn't happen again," said Justin Hettinga, father of Caleb, 20, who lost sight in his right eye and received extensive facial injuries. He still requires further reconstructive surgeries.

Jordan and Evan Caldwell 'were bright lights to all that knew them,' their family said in a statement following their deaths in 2016 at the bobsled track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. (Submitted by the Caldwell family)

WinSport said in a statement the organization understands the importance of the inquiry and is committed to participating fully.

"Safety has and will always be a top priority at WinSport," WinSport said. "We want to offer our thoughts and support to the families affected by the 2016 tragedy, as we know the week will be a challenging time for them."

The organization undertook an internal review following the incident, and implemented additional security measures, which will be reviewed during the inquiry. 

In an earlier interview with CBC, the teens admitted to feeling regret and guilt over their fateful mistake.

Mark Lyons, 19, broke several bones in his face and took months to recover. He is still wearing braces to help his jaw heal properly.

He says he still gets flashbacks, especially when someone asks him about the scar on his neck.

"Just thinking about the event and how crazy it was and all that happened," he said. "And even thinking of lots of the good things that have come out of it, it's not usually too emotional, except when it was the anniversary."

As twin brothers lay dead along the bobsled track at Canada Olympic Park and other friends with serious injuries shivered on the ice, Mark Lyons lifted his voice in a song of worship. That strong Christian faith helped sustain the six survivors through the awful night, and is now spurring them to share their intimate memories on the anniversary of the tragedy. 3:58

Lyons won't be attending the inquiry. He is away attending bible college in the U.S.

But if he were here, he says he would want a chance to speak.

"I would probably say that I definitely wouldn't blame COP for it because it is their property and we snuck in after hours and it was our fault. And now we are sorry for what we did and the trouble it has caused." 

Although he says he would like to see better warnings at the top of the track.

Lyons won't be the only one skipping the inquiry. Justin Hettinga says his son finds it difficult reliving the tragedy and won't be attending.

"He fully acknowledges they made a big mistake that night and he lost his best friends as a result of it, so to continually, for that, to be constantly brought up and be reminded of it, is still painful."

"Plus there's the whole aspect of that it's somewhat embarrassing."

Flowers sit outside Canada Olympic Park where two teens died and six others were injured after accessing the bobsled track after hours in 2016. (CBC)

The families also say that in spite of the grief and pain they have gone through, they remain a close group of supportive friends, bound together by their Christian faith and love for one another.

The inquiry is scheduled to run April 9 to 13. Judge Margaret Keelaghan is presiding over it.