By ROB GILLIES
TORONTO (AP) — A bus carrying seniors to a casino that collided with a semi-trailer truck in a crash that killed 15 people did not have the right of way, police said Friday, after watching video of the accident.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Supt. Rob Lasson said police also obtained witness statements from passing motorists that corroborated what investigators saw on the dash cam video from the semi truck.
“This video indicates the bus entered the roadway where the semi truck had the right of way,” Lasson said, adding later: “We don’t know why the bus proceeded.”
He said officers had not been able to speak to the driver of the bus, who is hospitalized. The truck driver has been released from the hospital.
Lasson said police were not assigning blame at this time and continued to investigate. He added that officers were looking into whether the truck had mechanical problems.
Lasson said investigators had not yet identified the bodies of the 15 killed, though those who were not injured were presumed to be deceased. He said the ages of the deceased and injured ranged between 58 and 88. Nineteen were women and six were men.
The group of 25 seniors was on a day-trip from rural Dauphin, Manitoba, when the crash happened on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Six of 10 seniors who survived were listed in critical condition, health officials said Friday. The remaining four were also hospitalized. Most of them had head injuries and broken bones.
“This is an elderly cohort of patients, so recoveries will be long and, of course, can be complicated,” Dr. Shawn Young, chief operating officer of Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, said at a news conference.
Chief medical examiner John Younes said work continues on identifying those who died, using fingerprints, dental records and, if necessary, serial numbers on artificial hips and even DNA.
“The reason we have to undertake scientific means of identification is that most, if not all, of the deceased have significant facial trauma, so identifying them visually is not possible,” Younes said.
He said authorities hope to have post-mortem examinations done by Monday and identifications completed by the middle of next week.
In Dauphin, where most of the bus riders are from, flags were flown at half-staff.
Sandra Kaleta, who is involved with the Dauphin Active Living Centre, said she knew some of the people on the bus and played Scrabble every Tuesday with one of them.
“I have no idea how she is,” said Kaleta. “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, something that didn’t happen often. The last such outing may have been before the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted.
“It’s going to take years, not just days or months (to recover),” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the flag in Ottawa’s Peace Tower on Parliament Hill would also be lowered.
The crash happened just before noon Thursday. Police said road conditions were clear at the time.
Rescue crews encountered a horrific scene of bodies on the road.
The semi was still upright in a ditch, its front end crumpled, 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.
The accident brought back memories of a 2018 bus crash in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan that killed 16 people from the Humboldt Broncos minor league hockey team.
Meanwhile, police in the Canadian province of British Columbia said no critical injuries had been reported among 30 people on a charter bus that crashed on a forest service road north of Prince George, British Columbia on Friday.
RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Cooper said numerous ambulances and police officers have been dispatched. The bus was carrying pipeline workers Friday morning when it went off the road.
BC Emergency Health Services said 17 patients were transported to hospital.