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University says it's making changes after crash that killed two students

Search and rescue crews and RCMP help a tow-truck crew to remove a bus from the ditch of a logging road near Bamfield, B.C., on Saturday, September 14, 2019. A report into a bus crash that killed two University of Victoria students calls for travel during daylight hours on a narrow logging road that it says should be improved by the provincial government.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
June 25, 2020 - 7:00 PM

VICTORIA - A report into a bus crash that killed two University of Victoria students says travel should be restricted to daylight hours on a narrow logging road that it wants improved by the provincial government.

The report makes 43 recommendations in a report released Thursday from an independent expert commissioned by the university after the crash on the evening of Sept. 13, 2019.

Forty-five students and two teaching assistants were headed to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre aboard a chartered bus that moved over for an approaching vehicle and rolled down an embankment.

First-year biology students John Geerdes of Iowa City and Emma Machado of Winnipeg, both 18, died, and many others were injured.

Ross Cloutier, author of the report and a risk management expert, said the sciences centre hosted 112 school groups from 2018 to 2019 with about 3,400 participants.

He said only eight groups arrived after dark and the University of Victoria accounted for two of them.

"Given the university's proximity to (the centre) it seems reasonable to expect the university's groups to arrive during daylight hours," he said.

That would require leaving Victoria by noon and adhering to an organized and disciplined travel schedule, said Cloutier, principal of Bhudak Consultants Ltd.

University president Jamie Cassels said the school fully accepts the recommendations and is working to implement them.

"We know this devastating accident has caused immeasurable grief and that the impacts are ongoing for families of the students who died, and for the other students on the bus and their families," he said in a statement.

"To those who have suffered loss and hardship, the university is profoundly sorry."

The university said all surviving students and their parents or guardians were given the opportunity to speak or correspond with Cloutier and that he travelled to Manitoba and Iowa to meet with the families of the students who died.

It said that while university services and supports are currently focused on students it will also determine those that could be provided to their families.

"This will include more regular and timely communication with parents."

The university said in response to the recommendations that it will collect emergency contact information at registration. It said future bus trips to Bamfield will include a hazard assessment and travel will happen during daylight.

Pre-determined itineraries, an additional satellite communications device and first-aid equipment for the group size will also be part of trip planning.

Staff on board will enforce protocols, such as adhering to the itinerary and the wearing of seatbelts, the school said, and it agrees with the review that using a ferry service from Port Alberni to Bamfield may be useful for some trips.

Cloutier also called for the development of more robust crisis response protocols by the university, as well as a separate way to deal with major off-campus incidents.

"Campus security, while being a convenient first point-of-contact, is not the unit that should be handling parent and student inquiries for academic or service questions."

The university said it recognizes its resources are not sufficient to support response to serious incidents.

"To better support our students and staff during such an event we will look to develop external resources that can be quickly scaled to provide a range of potential services and supports."

It also said the condition and suitability of the logging road as an essential corridor between Bamfield and Port Alberni continues to be a concern.

"The university, along with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, the (centre) and others are advocating to the B.C. government for road improvements. Parents of the students have identified this as an important priority."

Scott Fraser, the minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said options for safety measures are being considered by his ministry, the Ministry of Transportation, the Huu-ay-aht First Nation as well as timber companies that maintain the road where the crash occurred.

"At the premier's request, a working group was formed to do a technical review of Huu-ay-aht First Nation's road upgrade proposal," Fraser said.

"This work takes time and we hope to have more to say in the next few months."

RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the Mounties have concluded their investigation and determined there was no criminality or contravention of the Motor Vehicle Act that could have contributed to the incident.

Transport Canada and the BC Coroners Service are still investigating the crash.

The university said the centre is not booking field trips until at least April 2021 due to COVID-19 and buses will not be used for field trips until the recommendations are in place.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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