Exclusive

'I want to be able to hug the families and say sorry': Key witness recounts Humboldt Broncos bus crash

Kelsey Fiddler was travelling with her two boys to Nipawin, Sask., on April 6 when she saw the charter bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos collide with a semi-trailer just a few metres from them.

Kelsey Fiddler called 911 after the hockey players' bus and a semi-trailer collided metres from her

Kelsey Fiddler said she was waiting at a stop sign on April 6 when the Humboldt Broncos' charter bus and a semi-trailer crashed just metres from her car in rural Saskatchwan. She is a key witness to what happened. (Kymber Rae/CBC)

In the shoulder lane of Highway 335 in Saskatchewan, Kelsey Fiddler's hands trembled on the steering wheel of her red Buick Century. Behind her in the snowy ditch, a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos lay on its side in the snow next to an overturned semi-trailer.

Fiddler, 34, said she had to swing her vehicle away in time to avoid being sandwiched by the crash between a Charlie's Charters bus en route to a game in Nipawin, Sask., and a semi-trailer about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale, Sask. on April 6. 

"I always wonder why," Fiddler said. 

"Why I was there."

The collision killed 16 people and injured 13 others. Four people who were on the bus are still in hospital. None are listed in critical condition.

Fiddler is now a key witness, as the RCMP continue to look into the incident. She would not comment on what may have caused the crash, due to the ongoing investigation. No charges have been laid.

The bus carrying the Hubmbolt Broncos and the semi both wound up in the snowy ditch. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
Fiddler's actions saved herself, her two sons in the back seat and unborn baby. 

"It happened so fast," said Fiddler, who was 28 weeks pregnant.

"I was shaking there, and I was saying Lord, Lord, Lord." 

'I made them promise not to look back'

Fiddler said she took a deep breath and called 911.

"There are people hurt. Can you come right away?" she recalls asking a dispatcher.

"I never thought I'd ever witness this kind of accident."

Later that night, she wound up sharing an ambulance with a Bronco who survived.
The semi-trailer involved in the crash was travelling westbound on Highway 335. It would have passed a flashing stop sign before entering an intersection where Highway 335 meets Highway 35. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Fiddler said the crash happened at approximately 4:45 p.m. She remembers a deep cold on the day of the accident despite the sun being high in the sky. 

The crash sounded like an explosion, she said. The rumbling that followed shook her car and woke her youngest from a nap.

She pleaded with her sons, aged 11 and seven, not to stare at the wreckage.

"I felt scared," Fiddler said.

"They were crying ... I made them promise me not to look. So we held hands and we said the Lord's prayer."

Gave victims pillows and blanket

Fiddler, who is from Red Earth Cree Nation, was headed to Nipawin from Melfort, Sask., to pick up her brother for a family get-together in Saskatoon.

She said she was waiting at the eastbound stop sign on Highway 335 to make a left-hand turn onto Highway 35 when she saw the Charlie's Charters bus carrying the hockey team.

She said it was approaching in the northbound lane of Highway 35 at what appeared to be regular highway speed with a few vehicles trailing behind it. 

Fiddler was waiting for the traffic to pass before she could proceed with her turn, which never happened.
Sixteen crosses at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 mark the lives lost as a result of the crash. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

After the impact, she said a bystander pulled a long steel beam from underneath her vehicle.

Once she got off the phone with 911, she carefully stepped out of the driver's door to take her children's two grey pillows and a navy fleece blanket from her trunk to comfort the victims. 

She said she flagged down a bystander to take them from her so she could return to her children. 

"Thanks," she remembers him saying as he rushed away to help those lying on the icy ground.

'Just go help these people there'

Fiddler said she moved her vehicle up the road to make room for first responders, who arrived about 15 minutes after her call.

She said she was interviewed by a police officer, who noticed her heavy breathing.

Fiddler had started having contractions every 15 to 20 minutes.
Help arrived at the intersection about 15 minutes after Fiddler called 911. She was pregnant and drove herself to a hospital 20 minutes away so she would not take up ambulance space. She started having contractions after the crash. (Kymber Rae/AFP/Getty Images)

The officer asked paramedics to check on her, she said.

They rushed toward her with a stretcher, took her pulse and were concerned she was going into premature labour.

Even so, she refused to take up space on an ambulance meant for the victims. 

"I said 'No, I don't think I will accept that,'" Fiddler said.

"I can take myself to the hospital. Just go help those people there. They need you more than I do."

Fiddler drove herself and her sons 20 minutes north to the Nipawin hospital.

'I just couldn't stop crying for them'

While she was worried for her baby, she could not stop thinking about the Broncos' families.

"That's when I started feeling that sorrow for them," Fiddler said.

"I just couldn't stop crying for them."

By that night, Fiddler's contractions grew more frequent, coming about every five minutes. She was transported to a hospital in Saskatoon from Nipawin in an ambulance.

"I kept telling the paramedics to watch out for the semis," Fiddler said. "I was so paranoid."

On the way, the ambulance picked up one of the survivors from the crash.

"I started to wonder who this person was because he had blond hair," she said.

"I remember the guy said that he must've got hurt from playing hockey and he was complaining about sore shoulders. That's when I started to pray for him and cry for him, knowing that he didn't know what was going on."

She was kept at the Saskatoon hospital for three nights and released on Monday, still pregnant. Her baby is due on June 22.

Fiddler hasn't seen the player since. She would like to meet him again and find out how he's doing. 

'I know how it is to lose a son'

She is still shaken. 

She has the same last name as a family who died at the same intersection 20 years ago, but could not say whether she is related.

She calls the experience a wake-up call.

She said she has reconnected with her faith and is receiving weekly mental health support and guidance from an elder. 

"Every time I talk about it, I feel like a whole bunch of weight is lifted off my shoulders."

"There are people there who do help and I'm glad I'm able to talk to people."
Fiddler knows what it's like to lose a child. In 2011, she lost her newborn named Steven to sudden infant death syndrome. She would like the blessing of Humboldt families to name her baby Logan, after one of the victims, or Humble. (Kelsey Fiddler/Supplied)

Four weeks after the crash, she wants to connect with the families of the Humboldt Broncos.

"I know how it is to lose a son," said Fiddler, who lost a baby named Steven in 2011 to sudden infant death syndrome.

"I want to be able to hug the families and say sorry to them. Maybe we can visit and have coffee. I just want to be there for them." 

Fiddler also wants to get the families' blessing. 

She would like to call her newborn Logan after victim Logan Boulet, who donated his organs. Or Humble. 

"It almost sounds like Humboldt," Fiddler said.

"Humboldt Strong. I think it's a beautiful name."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.