By Steve Lambert and Jeremy Simes in Dauphin, Man.
Flags were at half-mast as residents of a western Manitoba city awaited word on the fate of loved ones, while police started to piece together what caused a crash between a semi-trailer and a bus carrying seniors on a day trip to a casino, killing at least 15.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now,” Brad Michaleski, the provincial legislature member for Dauphin, said Friday in an interview.
“We’re just trying to get a handle on how large an issue is this for our area and we’re patiently waiting (on) RCMP.”
Mounties said they are working with the medical examiner’s office to confirm identities and pass on information to loved ones of the victims.
The bus had 25 people, 10 of whom were sent to area hospitals with head injuries and broken bones.
Sandra Kaleta said she is involved with the Dauphin Active Living Centre, which organized the trip, and said she had considered going on the bus Thursday.
“I don’t know why I changed my mind,” Kaleta said. “I just did,”
She said she knew some of the people on the bus and would play Scrabble every Tuesday with one of them.
“I have no idea how she is,” said Kaleta.
“I just don’t know. I think that’s the hardest part. I can’t imagine what some of these families are going through.”
Kaleta said she recalled everyone feeling excited about going to the casino. It wasn’t a trip that happened often, she added, noting the last one may have been before COVID-19.
“It’s going to take years, not just days or months (to recover),” she said.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Montreal Friday that the flag on the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill would also be lowered.
“I know that all of Canadians stand with people during this very, very difficult time. There are lots of questions but mostly there are lots of tears right now and we will be there for each other,” he said.
On Thursday, a bus coming from the Dauphin Active Living Centre was struck by a semi-trailer at an intersection on the Trans-Canada Highway near Carberry, about 150 km south of Dauphin.
The bus company, Quality Care Transit, posted on Facebook about the crash.
“We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to families and friends of our beloved clients and to our community as we work through this heart-wrenching situation,” it said.
The minibus was on a day trip to the casino in Carberry when the crash occurred just before noon Thursday. Police said road conditions were clear and both drivers survived.
Rescue crews encountered a horrific scene of bodies on the road.
The semi was still upright in the ditch, its front end crumpled and smashed while the bus was on the grass a short distance away engulfed in flames that eventually burned it down to a blackened chassis.
Dauphin Mayor David Bosiak said everyone in the city of about 8,600 knows someone who was on the bus, and there’s a collective feeling of shock.
RCMP Supt. Rob Lasson said it appears the bus was crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, heading south on Highway 5, when it was struck.
He declined to speculate on the cause or circumstances of the crash, but said the investigation continues and criminal charges are a possibility.
Lasson said the bus crossed the westbound lane of the Trans-Canada before it was struck by the semi in the eastbound lane. Early Friday, the Manitoba government said on Twitter that all lanes of the highway had reopened.
Aerial photography of the crash scene shows that drivers heading south across the highway would have to obey a yield sign before proceeding into or across the eastbound lane.
Banner image: A scorched patch of ground where a bus carrying seniors ended up after colliding with a transport truck and burning on Thursday is seen on the edge of the Trans-Canada Highway where it intersects with Hwy 5, west of Winnipeg near Carberry, Man., Friday, June 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2023.