Transportation Safety Board gets OK to assist with, but not lead, investigation into Ottawa bus crash


The Transportation Safety Board will lend its expertise to uncover the cause of Friday’s bus collision at Westboro Station, Ottawa’s chief of police confirmed during an update on the investigation Wednesday.

All three people killed in last week’s deadly bus accident were passengers on the bus when it crashed, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau confirmed during the press conference. He clarified initial police reports that two of the victims had been on the double-decker bus and a third was on the station platform.

He said the investigation has since shown all three were, in fact, on board when it slammed into the Westboro transit station on Jan. 11.

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Two people were ejected from the bus when it crashed, but they survived and are in hospital recovering from “significant injuries,” Bordeleau said.

Bruce Thomlinson, Judy Booth and Anja Van Beek, all civil servants working for the federal government, died in the crash, which injured 23 others.

Even though five days have passed since the accident, police have not yet been able to examine the bus because a warrant has not been issued to give permission. It means police also haven’t yet accessed any cameras or other data recording equipment such as the ‘black box’ that would have been on board.

“This is not a bus that belongs to the Ottawa Police Service and we want to make sure that we are doing things methodically and according to law,” Bordeleau said.

“OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa have been very co-operative, and they’ve said, ‘Take the bus, look at it.’ And we said thank you very much, but we still have to get that judicial authorization in the light of any potential proceedings in the courts to make sure that we’ve gathered the evidence properly. So that’s why there’s been a slight delay.”

Police covered the badly damaged bus with a tarp and towed it away from the scene of the accident on Saturday. They also gathered evidence from the scene and used drones to capture aerial visuals of the crash scene.

The double-decker transit bus was travelling to Kanata’s suburban Bridlewood neighbourhood from downtown Ottawa when it hopped a curb and struck the Westboro transit shelter at about 3:50 p.m. just as rush hour began. It plowed along a station platform and into the overhanging roof of the transit shelter, which carved deep into the vehicle’s upper level and crushed a number of seats.

Many of the injured survivors sustained injuries to their lower limbs and required amputations, emergency doctors at Ottawa Hospital told The Canadian Press earlier this week.

The only thing ruled out as a cause so far is impaired driving, but everything else, from weather and road conditions to the driver’s history are part of the ongoing investigation. The driver was involved in another bus accident a month ago, but few details of this prior incident have been released. She was initially arrested, questioned and released without charge following the crash on Friday, but police continue to probe whether charges should be laid.

TSB cleared for limited involvement

Bordeleau also said the police have accepted an offer of technical help from the TSB to help determine the cause of the accident. The TSB isn’t automatically part of bus crash investigations, but a number of calls were issued for them to lead this one – including from parents of the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April 2018.

The TSB will not lead the investigation or be able to issue national recommendations, Bordeleau said. Since this accident does not involve planes, trains, marine vessels or pipelines, the TSB does not have jurisdiction, and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the provincial coroner’s office to take part.

It will lend its engineering expertise to help with collision reconstruction as well as vehicle and road design analysis. Any recommendations the TSB wishes to make will be to the coroner’s office or through the local fatal accident motor vehicle collision committee.

“The coroner always has the option of calling a coroner’s inquest where those types of recommendations can also be pushed through,” Bordeleau said, stressing that the Ottawa police will remain the lead investigators of the crash.

If immediate safety concerns are uncovered during the probe, they will be relayed to the City of Ottawa and be made public by the police, he added.

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