Forty-five minutes into the ride with Cal Hobbs, the father of Nipawin Hawks’ goalie, Declan Hobbs, Cal’s phone rang.
Nipawin Hawks goalkeeper Declan Hobbs was on the other end and Scott Thomas says Declan told his parents not to bother coming to the game as there had been an accident on the highway between the Broncos bus and a semi truck.
Cal then warned his son that Evan Thomas’s dad was in the car.
“You just heard dead silence and a sniffle and Dec’ said, ‘it’s bad,” Scott said.
He said they then headed up the highway toward Gronlid, Sask. And they soon got a sense of how dire the situation was.
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“As we are driving you see over your shoulder the one ambulance goes flyin’ by. OK, one ambulance that’s not so bad,” Scott explained. “And then the second one goes flying by and the third one goes flying by and you can see the STARS (helicopters) coming.”
The car soon passed through Gronlid. Declan had told them the accident was just beyond the small hamlet but it took a while before they happened upon the scene of the crash.
“We keep going and it’s nothing and nothing and you see it over the horizon and you know there’s an intersection there and you’re like ‘this happened at an intersection’ and those are never good,” he said. “And then you just get closer and closer and closer and there is a firetruck across the road and police officers across the road. Bubbles everywhere and your heart just stops.”
Scott said they arrived, they had to park behind a row of cars and were in the midst of several parents as they approached the bus.
As soon as he got his first glimpse he said, “I knew right then he was gone.”
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Having played several seasons in the Western Hockey League, he knew there was a pecking order on the bus. Veterans sat in the back of the bus whereas rookies would be perched up front.
“So as the policeman stopped us we saw enough to know which part of the bus was gone and it was the front of the bus,” he said. “It was just obliterated. It was just gone.”
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Much like his son Evan, Scott rode the bus while playing minor hockey in the prairies, so he “never thought being on the bus would be where he would lose his life.”
Scott said he was standing next to one of the other parents, Dr. Paul Labelle, whose son Xavier was injured in the crash, when the other teen’s father asked a police officer how the accident occurred.
“The police officer says someone blew through a stop sign,” Scott said.
RCMP Cpl. Rob King would not comment on the cause of the crash other than to say “significant resources” have been dedicated to the investigation.
“It’s going to take some time, and I think that’s what people need to understand, this is going to take time to put it all together because there is a significant number of factors that need to be considered,” King told Global News. “We want to look at the investigation in its totality, so we can make a clear assessment and make a best determination of what happened.”
King also would not comment on whether the sun was in the driver’s eyes.
Following the bus collision on Friday, Thomas, along with other parents, were warned by the Coroner that their beloved boys who had died might not look like themselves given the extent of the trauma their bodies had endured.
When Evan was younger, his father said he came home and tried to wipe away a birth mark on his cheek after being teased. Scott told his son it was what made him special and Evan never brought it up again.
Scott said he knew his 18-year-old son without a shadow of a doubt when he walked in the room, but just to make sure, rubbed blood away from his cheek.
“There was his birth mark and I knew before but at [that] point he was identified.”
Scott said he has been moved by all of the support he has received from across Canada.
“It’s overwhelming no question,” he said. “From the general public. That part is unbelievable.”
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Scott said he knew he would receive support from within the hockey community, especially from other hockey parents as many would have sent their sons on similar journeys.
“That accident could have happened on any stretch of highway, anywhere in Canada, at any time,” he explained.
“Hockey parents all over the world got their hearts ripped out,” he said.