By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Dauphin
Family members of 16 seniors who died in a highway crash honoured their loved ones Thursday, silently placing large photos of them on easels as police publicly confirmed the names of the victims.
“We lost 16 people who are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers (and) grandparents whose decades of contributions helped make this community what it is. They’re gone in an instant,” said RCMP Supt. Jeff Asmundson, in charge of Manitoba’s west district.
They ranged in age from 68 to 88, with 11 of them in their 80s. All but two were women and all came from Dauphin and the surrounding area.
“Words cannot express the loss you have experienced over the last few days or the trauma that continues as you visit the loved ones in the hospital,” said Ernest Sirski, the reeve of the Rural Municipality of Dauphin.
“We cannot feel your pain. We can only offer our sympathies. We cannot suffer your loss, but we can share your grief.”
The victims were: Claudia Zurba, 87; Patsy Zamrykut, 88; Lillian Stobbe, 73; Donna Showdra, 79; Jean Rosenkranz, 82; Frank Perzylo, 82; Rose Perzylo, 80; Shirley Novalkowski, 76; Nettie Nakonechny, 87; Dianne Medwid, 70; Arlene Lindquist, 68; Helen Kufley, 88; Ann Hill, 81; Vangie Gilchrist, 83; Margaret Furkalo, 82; and Louis Bretecher, 81.
They were among 25 people, including the driver, on board a minibus on a day trip last Thursday to the Sand Hills casino in Carberry, 190 km south of Dauphin.
They were just minutes from the casino when, according to dashcam footage, the minibus drove into the path of a semi-trailer truck heading east down the highway, resulting in a fiery high-speed collision that left 15 bus passengers dead at the scene.
Another passenger died earlier this week in hospital from her injuries, leaving five women and four men, including the bus driver, in hospital.
Of those nine, four are listed in critical condition.
RCMP Supt. Rob Lasson said the investigation continues to determine what happened and why, and whether any criminal charges should be laid. Police have said road and weather conditions were clear.
Police are examining the mechanics of the two vehicles involved and plan to eventually speak with the minibus driver and the other witnesses, but not before their conditions improve.
“We’re not rushing to talk to them,” said Lasson.
The driver of the truck was treated and released from hospital last week.
Lasson said both drivers had the proper vehicle operating licences.
The impact of the crash left the front end of the truck smashed while the minibus ended up a number of car-lengths away in a ditch, engulfed in flames that burned it down to a charred chassis.
Aerial photography showed the minibus had to obey a stop sign and then a yield sign as it crossed the westbound lane before stopping at a median to enter or cross the eastbound lane.
A community memorial service is set for later Thursday in Dauphin.
“Death happens but we never forget the ones who passed away. They will always be in our hearts. They have moved us and shaped us,” said Wayne Olson, a community minister for the Church of Christ in Dauphin and one of the organizers of the memorial service.
The service is to include comment from Dauphin Mayor David Bosiak and Sirski. There will be hymns and older songs that those affected by the crash likely knew well.
A prayer is to be said in English and Ukrainian, to reflect the heritage of the region.
The seniors’ trip to Carberry was organized by the Dauphin Active Living Centre, which since has had counsellors and other supports for those who stop by. A week after the crash, a flower memorial has grown outside the centre.
Sirski told reporters it was an emotional ceremony, adding at least four of the victims went to his church.
“I had to remember not to cry … especially when they were putting up the photos,” he said.
“I knew I had a job to do to represent my community. It was a tough job.”
Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.