Charges pending after bus crash on Coquihalla Highway injures dozens

VANCOUVER — Police say it could be weeks before charges are laid in connection with a serious collision involving a tour bus and a tow truck on the Coquihalla Highway Saturday.

The crash–which occurred near Exit 250 just south of Brookmere, B.C., about 40 kilometres south of Merritt–involved a tour bus with Richmond-based Universal Coach Lines and a tow truck. Several people were ejected from the bus, according to reports.

In total, 38 people were sent to nearby hospitals, according to B.C. Emergency Health Services. They say two were airlifted to hospitals in Kelowna and Kamloops, while the rest were transported to hospitals in Kamloops, Merritt, Hope, Chilliwack and Kelowna.

The Coquihalla was closed to northbound traffic at Exit 250 well into the evening. Southbound traffic was reduced to a single lane following the crash, but has since fully reopened.

Barbara Cheng, owner of Universal Coach Lines, is heading to the scene and has confirmed to Global News her bus was involved in the crash. She says it was travelling from Vancouver to Kelowna, and many passengers have already been discharged from a hospital in Merritt.

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Hours after the crash, Merritt RCMP confirmed that despite the wreckage, there was no one with life-threatening injuries.

“It’s very fortunate. It could have been much, much worse,” said Cpl. Chris Newel.

Bus hit tow truck

Photo of a tow truck hit by a tour bus on the Coquihalla on June 27, 2015.
Photo of a tow truck hit by a tour bus on the Coquihalla on June 27, 2015. @SemiRigged/Twitter
Photo of a tow truck hit by a tour bus on the Coquihalla on June 27, 2015.
Photo of a tow truck hit by a tour bus on the Coquihalla on June 27, 2015. @SemiRigged/Twitter

According to witnesses, the accident happened when the bus struck a tow truck, which was assisting a small red car that hit and killed a deer.

“A deer ran into the road, and hit the red car,” said Jess Heer, who was driving northbound to Kamloops when he saw the original accident.

“The people in the car were fine. We pushed the car out of the way, moved it off of the road…we calmed everyone down and then left.”

Heer said even though they pushed the car to the shoulder, it wasn’t completely safe from oncoming traffic.

“They come up that hill pretty fast [and] on that highway the shoulder isn’t big enough for a full car,” he said.

“A lot of people were braking at the last minute, it is such a hazardous spot.”

The tow truck was owned by Mario’s Towing, a full-service towing company based in Kelowna. They told Global News that “management is currently dealing with the situation and will answer any questions on Monday.”

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C.J. Hodgson said she was travelling southbound at around 10:30 a.m. when she passed the tour bus.

“The front third or so of the bus is either ripped off or smashed in. It’s wide open. You can see into the bus,” she said.

She said the hoods of a tow truck and a small car were smashed in and the air bags were inflated.

Hodgson said the bus appeared to have crashed into a highway railing and a handful of people were looking over it at the drop below. Another group of people were standing on the road.

“It’s scary, especially with the people looking over the edge,” said Hodgson. “It’s a big drop. If they’re looking for something other than their belongings, that’s scary.”

Last year, dozens of tour bus passengers were injured in a crash 30 kilometres south of Merritt.

Charges pending

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Merritt RCMP say they are looking into the actions of the bus driver, and charges are pending.

“The investigation is in its early stages but charges are pending,” said Sgt. Mike Pears in a statement.

“Police would like to remind persons of the ‘Slow down, move over’ legislation that requires vehicles to slow to 70 kmh and move over when passing emergency vehicles and tow trucks.”

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READ MORE: Slow down and move over for “official vehicles” or face a stiff fine in 2015

The Ministry of Transportation says that Universal Coach Lines has had no major incidents or safety concerns in recent years. However, transportation staff will be working with the RCMP on a full review of the company’s safety record.

Cpl. Newel said the bus was transporting tourists. He said serious injuries were suffered by the tow truck driver, the driver of the small red car, and two people inside the bus.

He said that in many ways, it’s a fortunate result.

“Given the type of collision that took place and the vehicles that were there, it could have been much worse.”

-with files from Canadian Press