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Two Carleton students among those killed in major crash in Ottawa’s south end

Photo courtesy of Transportation Safety Board of Canada

SIX PEOPLE WERE killed and more than 30 injured after an OC Transpo double-decker bus hit a VIA Rail train in Ottawa on Sept. 18.

Among the deceased are two Carleton University students, Kyle Nash and Connor Boyd, both 21.

The other victims were Michael Bleakney, 57, Karen Krzyzewski, 53, Rob More, 35, and the bus driver, Dave Woodard, 46.

The collision took place shortly before 9 a.m. at a level crossing east of Fallowfield Station in the south end of Ottawa. OC Transpo bus Route 76, heading downtown, was travelling north when it collided with VIA Rail Train 51, coming from Montreal and heading west to Toronto.

Thirty-one people were taken to hospitals around the city for their injuries, 10 of which were in critical condition. No one on the train was injured.

“I know many of you have been worried about Connor today and some have contacted me. It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that Connor passed away today. He was a wonderful son and a good friend and we are all a bit lost tonight,” Connor’s mother Karen Rideout Boyd wrote on his Facebook page Sept. 18.

Mayor Jim Watson called the crash the worst in the city’s history.

“We lost six of our neighbours,” said Watson. “People who started off this bright and sunny day as we all did, heading from their homes and loved ones, going about their daily lives, and then this terrible tragedy struck, and in literally a moment, we lost six residents of our city.”

According to a witness on the scene, the bus hit the train head-on as if Woodard didn’t see the train or the signal lights. Gregory Mech, who was sitting on the top level of the bus, said people on the bus started to scream right before the collision as they realized the driver was not stopping.

“Like the news said either he didn’t see the light or he didn’t see the barricade, or they weren’t down on time… no one tells us anything as of now,” Woodard’s wife Terry told radio host John Oakley on AM 640.

The Transportation and Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is investigating brake failure as a possible cause of the crash.

University of Ottawa law student Rob Gencarelli was seated at the rear of the train.

“All I felt was a bump, and then I saw smoke, and then we were going off the tracks,” he said. “I thought we were going to flip over.”

TSB chief operating officer Jean Laporte, who graduated from the U of O’s honours bachelor of commerce in 1984, said the investigation into the crash could take several months.

“Following notification of the accident, the TSB immediately deployed a team of investigators and specialists to the accident site,” he said at a press conference held the day of the accident. “We now have a total of 11 staff members on site. We will be conducting a full and independent investigation into this tragedy. Our job is to determine what happened and why, with the aim of ensuring that this does not happen again.”

City manager Kent Kirkpatrick said the railway crossing at Fallowfield Road and Woodroffe Avenue was approved by CN in 2005. The corner had been on a “severe public safety issue” list for more than a decade, the Ottawa Citizen later revealed.

“We’re documenting and photographing the wreckage and the accident site,” Laporte said. “We are assessing the crossing, its design, and the site lines. We will be checking the warning systems and the gates at the crossing to ensure they were functioning correctly. We will be retrieving, downloading, and examining the data from the locomotive event recorder, as well as from other recording devices that are available. The investigation is going to be very complex.”

The intersection was designed in 2004 when a safety assessment was completed and approved by railway authorities. Previously, there had been no accidents at the intersection since 2002. No data exists prior to that date.

“I’d like to hear a little bit more about why this happened,” said Gencarelli. “But I think we go to this whole debate about rail safety, and I’m just kind of amazed that right now, I’m in the midst of it.”