'Torture on the inside': Humboldt Broncos dad dreads anniversary of bus crash

Layne Matechuk suffered a traumatic brain injury in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash on April 6, 2018. His father, Kevin, says the one-year anniversary is triggering anxiety and flashbacks. The Matechuks want to focus on Layne's recovery.

Layne Matechuk's father, Kevin, says he's amazed and inspired by his son's strength

Humboldt Broncos player Layne Matechuk suffered a brain injury in the bus crash on April 6, 2018. His father, Kevin, posted this picture on Twitter and wrote, 'Been a tough week, but this smiling face always cheers me up.' (Twitter/Kevin Matechuk)

As each day passes, and the one-year anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash gets another day closer, Kevin Matechuk can feel the tension rising.

His son, Layne, is one of 13 survivors of the crash. The Broncos defenceman suffered a severe brain injury and skull fractures, as well as two collapsed lungs, and spent six months in hospital. He had to learn to walk and talk again.

"Anxiety just builds up every day that we get closer to the day," Matechuk said. The father has flashbacks to the panic and terror of that day, and to "how things used to be and how they're so different now."

"I don't know how to describe it in words, but you can just feel it building… It's kind of torture on the inside."

The collision happened at 4:50 p.m. CT on April 6, 2018, when a Calgary-based transport truck driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, drove through a stop sign into the path of the Broncos team bus at a rural intersection in Saskatchewan. The crash left 16 people dead, including two coaches, 10 players, an athletic therapist, statistician, radio announcer and bus driver.

Last month, Sidhu was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in January to 29 counts of dangerous driving causing death or bodily harm. 

Panic and terror

Kevin and his wife, Shelley, learned about the crash 20 minutes after it happened, then spent three hours pacing and praying at their home in Colonsay, Sask. Eventually, another parent who was at the Nipawin hospital was able to identify Layne by his arm tattoo, and informed his parents he had survived.

But their ordeal had only just begun. That tattoo was prophetic.

Before the crash, Layne was seeking inspiration to get him through tough times on the ice so he had the Chinese symbol for strength and the letters PMA — which stands for positive mental attitude — tattooed on his arm. He could never have imagined what would lie ahead.  


Strength and resilience

Layne spent a month in a coma, then another five months in hospital. After he was released, he moved into a rented apartment in Saskatoon with his parents, so he could undergo physical, occupational and speech therapy five days a week.

The 19-year-old still walks with a limp and struggles to speak. But, Matechuk says, his son is slowly improving and getting stronger.

Layne is aware of the accident and some of his memories are trickling back. Earlier this week, he remembered scoring his first goal in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and gave his family the play-by-play. 

"It was so heartwarming for us," Matechuk said. "He continues to amaze us."

The long-term impact of the traumatic brain injury is unclear, and Layne can be "angry and confused," according to Matechuk.

Still, it's Layne's strength — and smile — that inspire his father during the sleepless nights and difficult days. 

Layne got to meet his hockey idol, Penguins team captain Sidney Crosby, in Pittsburgh in March. (Submitted by Kevin Matechuk)

Last month, Layne — along with his parents and sister, Carly — flew to Pittsburgh so he could meet his hockey idol, Penguins team captain, Sidney Crosby. Matechuk said it was one of the happiest moments his family has ever had.

He said Layne hopes to return to recreational hockey and take a university class, possibly by correspondence, this fall. 

"I really believe he's going to be able to take university classes and follow a path of a career. It might not be the career he would have chose to go on before, but we just keep believing in him, and he keeps showing us that it looks like it's going to happen," Matechuk said.

A quiet anniversary

On Saturday, 3,000 people are expected to pack into the Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt for a service to honour those who lost their lives and those whose lives were forever changed. There will be a moment of silence at the exact time that the collision happened a year earlier.  

The Matechuks have decided not to attend the public service. Instead, they'll visit the STARS ambulance crew so Layne can meet the people who helped save his life and see the helicopter that he rode in. Then, they'll have a quiet day with family and close friends.  
Nearly a year after the bus crash, Kevin Matechuk tweets a picture of a piece of glass that was embedded in his son's body. (Twitter/Kevin Matechuk)

"We just want to get it behind us. It's very tough on all of us," Matechuk said. "It's just a time that we feel we want to be with ourselves."

Matechuk would like more privacy after the anniversary, as well, yet decided to share an update on Layne's recovery because he appreciates all the support his family has received from Canadians.

"We know there are so many caring people out there, and we really feel that helped get us through."


Bonnie Allen

Senior Reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. Before returning to Canada in 2013, Allen spent four years reporting from across Africa, including Libya, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She holds a master's in international human rights law from the University of Oxford. @bonnieallenCBC


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