A decade after Bathurst crash killed 7 players and teacher, city still mourns

Jordan Frenette thinks every day of the friends he lost 10 years ago when a van bringing Bathurst High School basketball players back from an away game crashed just minutes from home.

Bathurst High School principal says tragic accident is 'never going to go away'

Jordan Frenette watches a Phantoms game at Bathurst High School. He was captain of the basketball team 10 years ago when seven players were killed in a crash. (CBC)

Jordan Frenette thinks every day of the friends he lost 10 years ago. The horrific crash on Highway 8, just 500 metres from the Bathurst exit and about five minutes from home, that killed seven of his teammates.

Frenette was captain of the Phantoms, the Bathurst High School boys basketball team, but he didn't go to the away game in Moncton because he'd been ill.

You wish you had them there to see where they would be at this point in their lives and kind of share those experiences going forward in your own life.- Jordan Frenette, former team captain

Looking back, he said, he could have played but was saving himself for an important game scheduled for the next day.

"It very easily could have been me there."

Twelve people were in a passenger van, returning from a game in Moncton, about 220 kilometres to the south, when it fishtailed on a slippery highway and collided with a truck driving in the opposite lane, just after midnight.

Eight people died. Seven were players on the basketball team, between the ages of 17 and 15.

A local teacher, 51-year-old Elizabeth Lord, also died in the crash. Her husband, the team's coach, was driving. He survived, as did the couple's daughter and two members of the team.

On Jan. 12, 2008, the Phantoms were returning from a game in Moncton when their van fishtailed on a snowy stretch of Highway 8 near Bathurst and collided with a truck. (CBC)

Frenette was in his final year of school when the crash happened.

"A situation like that forces you to mature pretty quickly," he said.

"Normally, in that situation when you have somebody pass away, you're going to look to your friends to support you and help each other out and get through it."

Many of Frenette's close friends were killed.

It's never going to go away.- Shaun MacDonald, principal

Shaun MacDonald, a guidance counsellor at the time, was part of the team mobilized to offer counselling to students, families and friends of the victims.

"I was contacted around 12:18 at nighttime by my principal."

"We knew it was bad, we didn't know how bad at the time," MacDonald said.

But the number of deaths soon became clear, when he met the families at the hospital.

"It was unbelievable, you know. Words can't describe that day. 

"I get pretty emotional to go back to try to remember. I could tell you exactly the words that were said and what I was wearing … the day, you'll just never forget."

MacDonald said teachers and mental health professionals poured in from across the province to offer support. 

"No one knew what to do at the time," he said. "It was just, 'how do we come together?' and we did."

Always a memorial 

MacDonald commends the students for their resiliency but said the healing continues to this day.

Now the principal at Bathurst High, he left his position as guidance counsellor the spring after the accident.  

"For me, that was good enough. I couldn't do it anymore."

Shaun MacDonald, now the school principal, was a guidance counsellor at the time of the crash and gets emotional remembering the tragedy. (CBC)

Every year the school holds a memorial for the "boys in red," a term of affection for the members of the Phantoms who died. Students and staff are invited to place a wreath and share a moment of silence.

MacDonald said current students were much younger when the accident happened, but they know about the crash, and many are still affected.

"We certainly have our conversations and … I'd say we have our cries. 

"It's never going to go away."

A tattoo to remind him

Frenette's tattoo is made up of the jersey numbers of the teammates who died. (CBC)

Jordan Frenette agreed. His fondest memories of high school involve friends who are no longer alive, he said.  

"You wish you had them there to see where they would be at this point in their lives and kind of share those experiences going forward in your own life."

Frenette's tattoo, seven numbers on the back of his calf, represents the jersey numbers of each teammate who died and keeps their memories alive for him.

He said people ask him about it, and regularly talking about this friends makes it easier to cope with the loss.

Memorials are being held in Bathurst to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the crash.

The city is inviting people to the Boys in Red Memorial Park, at the corner of King Avenue and St. Patrick Street, from Thursday evening until Friday evening to pay respects.

Flags will fly at half mast on city buildings as well, in memory Javier Acevedo, Codey Branch, Nathan Cleland, Justin Cormier, Daniel Hains, Nicholas Kelly, Nickolas Quinn and Elizabeth Lord. 

About the Author

Tori Weldon


Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.