Ottawa

It's been a year since the Westboro bus crash. What's changed?

Saturday marks one year since a double-decker OC Transpo bus plowed into the Transitway shelter at Westboro station during what should have been a typical afternoon commute, forever changing the lives of dozens of victims and their families.

OC Transpo safety review expected later this year

Three passengers died and nearly two dozen were injured in the collision at Westboro station on Jan. 11, 2019. (Jean-Pierre Lafleur/Twitter)

Saturday marks one year since a double-decker OC Transpo bus plowed into the Transitway shelter at Westboro station during what should have been a typical afternoon commute, forever changing the lives of dozens of victims and their families.

Passengers Judy Booth, Bruce Thomlinson and Anja Van Beek died in the crash.

Many of those who survived have undergone surgery and therapy. Some haven't been able to work, while others have had to move into more accessible homes to cope with their injuries.

One year later, questions still swirl about what caused the crash, what's been done to improve safety on the Transitway, and whether enough has been done to help the victims who continue to suffer from the physical and emotional trauma of that fateful day.

What caused the crash?

Ottawa police finished their investigation and charged the driver in August. Aissatou Diallo faces multiple charges of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

As for the actual findings of that investigation and the circumstances that led police to lay those charges, they likely won't come out until Diallo's trial, scheduled for March 2021.

Neither OC Transpo nor the lawyer settling claims on behalf of the city has any extra insight into what the police uncovered about the events of that tragic afternoon.

Ambulances await patients at Westboro station following the bus crash. (Olivia Chandler/CBC)

What changes has OC Transpo made?

OC Transpo hired an engineering firm late last year to review the safety of the Transitway. It will study everything from speed limits to lighting to bus shelters, and will report back mid-year.

"Instantly, we wanted to know how it happened, why it happened, what can we do to prevent it from happening again," said OC Transpo's Pat Scrimgeour.

But the transit agency didn't want to make hasty changes that could lead to unforeseen problems, Scrimgeour said. A committee chaired by the Ottawa police that reviews fatal collisions recommended engineers perform the safety review.

Westboro station has the only remaining original shelters that were designed and installed in the 1980s, Scrimgeour noted; other Transitway stations were constructed later or have been replaced by LRT stops.

One thing has changed: New drivers at OC Transpo now need to spend a certain number of training hours on each type of bus in the fleet, including double-deckers.

What's been done for victims?

Both Diallo and the City of Ottawa are being sued for negligence. This week, the city solicitor formally admitted Ottawa takes responsibility for compensating victims.

The final sum will likely total tens of millions of dollars.

"Because Ottawa had employed the driver, and Ottawa owns the bus, and Ottawa owns the roadway, it's in a position to say, no matter what caused the accident, we are going to take responsibility," said Terry Shillington, an outside lawyer hired to settle the claims. Shillington said he hopes to reach settlements without going to court. 

Marcie Stevens had to have both of her legs amputated after she was severely injured in the OC Transpo bus crash at Westboro station on Jan. 11, 2019. She'll soon be fitted for prosthetic limbs. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

In court documents, a dozen families claim a total of about $50 million, but 18 more have also hired lawyers. They say the crash caused them to lose income and diminished their lifestyle, and they'll be paying medical bills for the rest of their lives. Some have had to install elevators or even build new homes to accommodate their injuries.

Settling these claims could take years, but city insurers have advanced $3.5 million in the meantime.

Will there be further investigation, or an inquest?

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation regulates commercial vehicles. It is still reviewing OC Transpo's operations, safety policies and procedures.

It could eventually tell OC Transpo to fix deficiencies or make certain operational changes, but it's up to OC Transpo itself to do that.

The coroner's office is still investigating, but can only make recommendations to prevent deaths in the future, not lay blame.

The supervising coroner for eastern Ontario, Louise McNaughton-Filion, said she can only make such recommendations or call an inquest once the criminal proceedings finish.

An aerial view of Westboro station on Jan. 11, 2019, a scene that will forever be seared into Ottawa's collective memory. (Guillaume Lafrenière/Radio-Canada)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Porter

Reporter

Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

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