Ottawa

Westboro bus crash trial is time for long-awaited answers, victims' families say

The trial of the bus driver involved in the fatal Westboro bus crash in Ottawa is scheduled to start today.

Aissatou Diallo, 44, faces numerous dangerous driving charges related to the fatal 2019 crash

Karen Benvie, the daughter of Judy Booth, who died in the 2019 Westboro bus crash, says her family has been searching for answers for more than two years. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

In the two years since her mother Judy Booth died in an OC Transpo bus crash, Karen Benvie has been looking for answers.

Ahead of the start this week of the criminal trial that will delve into the bus driver's responsibility, Benvie said she wishes she still had her mother's support.

"There's been a lot of times when I just want to pick up the phone and call her, so not having her — we feel robbed," said Benvie.

Booth, 57, was among the three people who died when the OC Transpo double-decker crashed into a bus shelter at the Westboro Transitway station in Ottawa during the Friday afternoon commute on Jan. 11, 2019.

Bruce Thomlinson, 56, left, Booth, 57, centre, and Anja Van Beek, 65, all died in the Jan. 11, 2019, crash. (Ottawa Police Service)

Two other civil servants, Anja Van Beek, 65, and Bruce Thomlinson, 56, were also killed. According to charges laid against the driver of that bus, at least 35 other people were injured — some requiring life-changing amputations.

Aissatou Diallo, 44, is charged with three counts of dangerous driving causing death and 35 counts of dangerous driving causing injury. She has pleaded not guilty and her trial is scheduled to start today in the Ontario Court of Justice.

No closure yet

Benvie said Booth's family has been waiting for the court process to begin with a mix of anxiety, anger and grief. 

"Our family doesn't feel like there's been any closure yet," she said.

She said there are still so many questions and she doesn't think a trial focused on one person can resolve all of them, especially when it comes to the role of the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo.

Booth's family has been waiting for the court process to begin with a mix of anxiety, anger and grief. (C. R. Gamble Funeral Home and Chapel website)

When charges against Diallo were announced in August 2019, police said the city and OC Transpo were cleared of criminal responsibility. The city has declared it is civilly responsible and is in the process of settling lawsuits with bus crash victims.

In an emailed statement, city solicitor David White said the city does not comment publicly on cases before the courts.

Benvie is relying on her family, but also her mother's friends in the Almonte, Ont., community who know her and have reached out. 

Families of OC Transpo bus crash victims hoping for answers as trial begins

7 months ago
1:25
Karen Benvie, whose mother Judy Booth died in the Westboro bus crash, spoke to CBC News about what she’s hoping for from the trial of bus driver Aissatou Diallo — and what her mother would think of the way things have gone. 1:25

She said she will be choosing when to watch the eight-week trial, which is accessible by Zoom due to restrictions on courtroom capacity related to COVID-19.

"I don't know if I could stomach watching every single second of this possibly eight-week trial. I think that would do a lot of damage," Benvie said.

Jac van Beek, who lost his sister, Anja van Beek, in the Westboro bus crash, says he hopes the trial will bring out the truth and get to the bottom of who is responsible. (Hugo Bélanger/CBC)

Family wants answers

Jac Van Beek, one of Anja Van Beek's brothers, said he will also be keeping some distance from following the trial moment by moment, though he also wants answers.

"I will look for the highlights. I know at least one of my brothers will be riveted to this. It's something he needs, it's part of his process and I respect that. I can't do it," Jac said.

‘I want to know what the truth is’

7 months ago
0:46
Jac Van Beek says he’s hoping for someone to be held accountable in the OC Transpo bus crash that killed his sister, Anja, and two others. 0:46

"What I don't want to hear are the details of what actually happened the moment of. It's horrific."

Jac said he and his brothers have had curbside meetings to check in during the pandemic and continued support will be important during the trial. 

Anja Van Beek and her three brothers, Jac, Mark and Andrew, left to right, in 2016. (photovanbeek.com)

He said the family is looking for answers after two years of considering theories of what happened that day.

Jac said he wants to see someone take responsibility. He said the truth will be an important part of how he and his family are able to move forward.

"Knowing the truth is a very valuable and fundamental building block for some sort of reconciliation in your own mind of what happened," he said.

"It gives meaning to Anja's death."

A note left for Bruce Thomlinson, one of the three people who died in the bus crash at Westboro station. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

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