With four people dead and seven others still in hospital Tuesday (Dec. 27), questions are swirling around who is to blame for the Christmas Eve coach bus crash along B.C.’s Okanagan Connector.
Transportation minister Rob Fleming said road conditions on Highway 97c weren’t unusual for a winter storm Saturday evening, and says the thoroughfare had been plowed and salted regularly throughout the day. The latest update from RCMP Tuesday afternoon, however, suggests the Ebus transporting 46 people west along the Kelowna to Vancouver route encountered some dangerous conditions.
RCMP say an initial analysis of the scene and day shows the bus drove through rain and hail on both clear, wet roads as well as ice and snow covered ones, as the weather changed and sun set. It was at about 6:14 p.m., well after the sky had turned dark, that RCMP say the bus “encountered adverse road conditions” near Loon Lake, east of Merritt.
“The E-bus went off road left, crossed the median and flipped onto its passenger side coming to rest in the eastbound lanes.”
RCMP say the bus did have seat belts, but the majority of passengers were not wearing them. Passerby and local residents rushed to help the crash victims by offering them blankets and letting them warm up in cars, before emergency services arrived.
Four passengers died at the scene. Officials haven’t identified them, but a GoFundMe was started for one of the victims – a 42-year-old father of two who recently moved from India.
The 41 other passengers, as well as the driver, were taken to various local hospitals. Seven remain there as of Tuesday, and Interior Health says they’re expected to survive.
RCMP say the passengers were a mix of locals, non-locals and foreign nationals.
“Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by the crash,” Fleming said during a news conference Tuesday.
He diverted blame away from his ministry and road contractors, saying they had issued warnings about the wintry road conditions both ahead of time and on the day of the crash. He added that crews had plowed and salted Highway 97c throughout the day, and that information provided by both them and a weather monitoring station led the ministry to decide the route didn’t need closing.
Fleming said there were no other crashes along the highway on Saturday.
He said both the RCMP and his ministry are conducting separate investigations into what contributed to the crash. RCMP say the Ebus remains in their custody and that BC Highway Patrol is working to return passengers’ belongings.
Anyone who was part of the crash and hasn’t yet spoken with RCMP, or who witnessed it is asked to contact Corp. Samantha Audley at email@example.com.