Families of First Nations men killed in train collision preparing to say goodbye
Three men died in crash with two-car train near Strathclair last Tuesday
The families of the men killed in a collision between a train and a van near Strathclair last week are waiting to bring their loved ones home so they can say goodbye.
"Heartbreaking. It's not just family and friends that are in shock. It's the whole community," said Joevine Beaulieu, about his nephew, Phil Houle Jr.
The three passengers — Houle, 45, from Sandy Bay First Nation, Trevor Bone, 25, from Waywayseecappo First Nation, and a 19-year-old man from Dauphin — were all killed.
A van with four people inside was travelling north on Road 126 West when it was hit by a westbound CP train last Tuesday. A spokesperson for CP said the collision involved two locomotives that made contact with the vehicle at a railroad crossing on a rural road adjacent to Highway 16.
The 27-year-old driver survived with life-threatening injuries, according to RCMP.
"This guy [Houle] volunteered his services to youth and hockey and he did a Facebook posting every day on his way to work. He did ten days straight and four days off. So, 'Good morning everybody, day six of ten. Good morning everybody, day seven.' And everybody's commenting, 'Go to work Junior, be careful out there,'" said Beaulieu.
All three men were Indigenous, involved in sports, had loving families and will be deeply missed by their communities, according to social media posts. Bone and Houle were both fathers to young children. They were on their way to work last Tuesday, doing highway construction for Russell Redi-Mix Concrete, before the crash.
"Very heartbreaking. We had to suspend our wake and funeral arrangements because there's delays that are beyond our control," said Beaulieu, adding they are waiting on the autopsy to be done. A sacred fire is burning until Houle's body is returned home.
"In our tradition we usually bury our loved ones within four days, that's our tradition. It's a cycle."
Chantelle Longclaws, wife of Trevor Bone, said their daughter and two sons are crying out for their father at night.
"He will always be in my heart, and my kids'," she said.
"My heart hurts but I look at our children and makes me happy that I made a piece of him and me together, going to miss him so much."
She said a sacred fire is burning in Waywayseecappo First Nation also until his body is returned home. She too wants to honour him by saying goodbye the traditional way later this week, but is struggling to imagine life without him.
The family of the young man from Dauphin asked for privacy. Dozens of social media posts express sadness over his death, describing him as a friend to many, involved in hockey and baseball, and close with his family.
On Friday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a press release the grieving families have unanswered questions and called on the RCMP, the Chief Medical Examiner's Office, CP Rail and Manitoba Workplace Health and Safety to have "clear, open, honest and timely communication" with them as they seek answers.
"Why is there an autopsy? He was just a passenger in a horrific crash. He wasn't even the driver. Why would they want to open up my nephew? My son? I considered him my son," said Beaulieu.
The Chief Medical Examiner's Office declined comment when reached by CBC. But on Monday, families of Houle and Bone said the medical examiner told them the autopsies should be complete by mid-week.
Spokespeople for CP and RCMP said they are continuing their investigations into the collision.
'He was my boy'
He added his own sons and many grandchildren are grieving too.
"He had nicknames for all of them. He gave them big bear hugs…He helped one of my sons raise his family, he was there half the time, babysitting or…he was my boy. I'm getting emotional here."
He said he broke down while driving on the weekend and his wife had to take the wheel. On the radio, someone had dedicated Brad Paisley's "When I get Where I'm going" to Junior, which has a line about seeing a grandfather again.
"He worked hard all his life. He worked with his grandfather, fishing. He did his own mechanical stuff that he learned on his own, woodworking," he said.
Houle worked as a 'flagger' in construction for at least four years, he said, but spoke of moving on.
"Too many near misses, he said. Too many close calls."
Both families said they are expecting to receive the bodies on Wednesday.