Saskatchewan’s premier wondered whether the military could help with autopsies following the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
Emails obtained by The Canadian Press show provincial coroners were scrambling to quickly conduct autopsies on the 16 people who died after the junior hockey team’s bus and a semi-truck collided April 6.
Two days later, Justice Minister Don Morgan wrote in an email that Saskatoon’s coroner’s office was only able to do four autopsies a day.
“That means four days before the last of the bodies will be released to families so that they can prepare for funerals,” Morgan said in an email obtained through a freedom-of-information request.
“What can we do to bring in resources to get them done much earlier?”
Premier Scott Moe responded by offering to contact people outside the province for assistance.
“Would the military have this ability?” Moe asked.
Jennifer Graham, a spokeswoman with the Saskatchewan Justice Ministry, says military help was considered but no request was made.
“The chief medical examiner in Alberta offered to help soon after the tragedy and we accepted her offer,” said Graham, who added that six autopsies were done in Alberta.
The military wouldn’t have been able to help anyway.
Jennifer Eckersley, a National Defence spokeswoman, said the military doesn’t have any pathologists and when it requires autopsies, such as when soldiers are killed overseas, it works with provincial pathologists.
A spokesman for the premier, Jim Billington, said the province explored all options to co-ordinate its response to the crash.
“We are thankful for the efforts of first responders, medical professionals, coroners in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and all others involved for their tireless and dedicated work in the responding to this tragedy,” he said.
The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game when the crash occurred at a rural intersection. In addition to those who died, 13 people on the bus were injured. The truck’s driver was not.
RCMP continue to investigate the cause and whether charges will be laid.
An internal review at the coroner’s office is also underway into a mix-up of two Broncos players after the crash.
On the afternoon of April 8, the coroner’s office and the RCMP released the names of those killed. Eighteen-year-old Xavier LaBelle was on that list.
That evening, after a public vigil in Humboldt, it was discovered that LaBelle was alive but suffering from serious injuries in a Saskatoon hospital bed. The 18-year-old player who had been believed to be in the hospital, Parker Tobin, was actually in the morgue.
Community coroner Wayne Nogier has said that LaBelle’s family was unsure when trying to identify the body in the morgue, so dental records had been ordered. Nonetheless, his name was released as among the dead.
It wasn’t until LaBelle woke up in the hospital and said he wasn’t Tobin that officials became aware of the mistake, said Nogier.
Some emails about the mix-up were also obtained by The Canadian Press and show that government officials planned a late-night conference call April 8 to discuss the mix-up.
“Call will discuss dental record identification, which will delay release of bodies. Potentially difficult conversations with families,” wrote Dale Beck, the acting chief coroner in Regina.
A government spokesman apologized for the error at a news conference the next morning.
– By Chris Purdy in Edmonton