Six months after the deadly double-decker bus crash at Westboro station, Ottawa police won’t disclose what stage investigators have reached in their probe of the fatal collision, nor how much longer the “lengthy” investigation will continue.
Relatives of two of the passengers killed on January 11 say they are struggling with the absence of an update or expected timeline, and wish police and city officials would touch base more frequently to confirm the status of the investigation.
“We’ve heard virtually nothing about what happened or what’s going on, and we don’t know anything about the investigation,” said Andrew Van Beek, whose 65-year-old sister, Anja Van Beek, died in the crash that winter afternoon.
The crash claimed the lives of Anja Van Beek, 57-year-old Judy Booth and 56-year-old Bruce Thomlinson, all federal public servants. Twenty-three other people were injured when the bus on express route 269 to the city’s west end barrelled into the overhang of a shelter at the transitway station west of downtown Ottawa.
The Ottawa Police Service took the lead on the investigation launched in the aftermath of the crash. Then-police chief Charles Bordeleau said the two-pronged investigation would focus on whether an offence was committed and a reconstruction of the crash to try and determine the cause and possible contributing factors.
During a news conference on January 16, Bordeleau warned the probe “will take time.”
“As with any investigation, we are limited in what information we can release but we will continue to be as transparent as we can,” he said that day.
The police department has not issued a status update on the investigation to the public since then.
Earlier this week, Global News sent the Ottawa police a list of questions about the structure and expected timeline of the investigation, and whether investigators where in touch with the families affected. The department issued a brief statement in response.
“The Ottawa Police investigation into the fatal Westboro Station collision is complex and involves one of the largest number of witnesses to an incident ever investigated by our Collision Investigation Unit. As a result, the investigation is lengthy,” a police spokesperson wrote to Global News.
“We cannot comment further so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”
But half a year is a “significant” amount of time to pass by without some kind of an update or check-in, Van Beek argued.
Karen Benvie, Judy Booth’s eldest daughter, agrees with Van Beek, saying she and her family have spent the last six months “feeling really stuck” without answers or any sense of a timeline for the investigation.
In an interview on Wednesday — what would have been her mother’s 58th birthday — Benvie said that collision investigators touched base once in the spring to say the investigation is ongoing, but apart from that, she hasn’t heard from police or anyone at the city since January.
“Without that communication, it just sort of feels like it’s kind of gotten swept under the rug with other things,” she said.
“I get it … I know you can’t really give us details at this time but I’d like to know that there are still people working on it, trying to find us those answers.”
‘We know this process can be frustrating’
For its part, in a statement attributed to city clerk and solicitor Rick O’Connor, the city said it continues to think of all those affected by the Westboro bus crash.
“We know this process can be frustrating,” O’Connor wrote.
In the six months since the deadly crash, the city has been served with a total of nine lawsuits related to the collision, including a notice of action for class-action suit, O’Connor confirmed.
Collectively, those suits are seeking just over $113 million in damages, he wrote, adding that individual plaintiffs may revise those amounts “upwards or downwards” as the matters makes their way through the courts.
The city and its insurers have “taken steps” to make interim payments to the passengers “most critically injured” in the crash so they don’t have to wait to go through the legal process for some relief, O’Connor said. His statement did not specify how many passengers the city has connected with to date, nor the total amount of these payments issued to date.
Van Beek and Benvie said their families haven’t launched or joined any legal action since the collision.
‘The entire city came together’
When the bus crash happened on January 11, Van Beek said he was busy at an event. He got notifications and texts about the collision on his phone, but he said he was too distracted to consider whether someone he knew might have been on the double decker involved.
The possibility finally struck him around 8 p.m., he recalled. He used the ‘Find My Friends’ app installed on his phone to check the whereabouts of his family members.
That’s when he saw that his sister’s phone was at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus.
“It spiralled from there,” he said. “There was no information, no confirmation until a few hours after that.”
In those first weeks after the collision, Van Beek said his family took some solace in the outpouring of support and messages they received from the Ottawa community.
“I know our entire family was impressed by how the entire city came together,” he said. “It really helped to kind of get through the grieving process.”
Van Beek said his family held a private celebration of life for his sister about a week and a half after death — a ceremony that was “filled to the brim.” Having spent most of her life in Ottawa, his sister — a resident of Kanata — had a lot of old friends and colleagues across the city, he said.
Born in the Netherlands, Anja moved to Canada with her family when she was a toddler, her brother said. Van Beek described his older sister as an energetic, active and healthy woman, who was “always there” for her two children and shared his love for photography.
She had been contemplating retirement before she died, Van Beek said. Throughout her career, Anja worked in several different offices — most recently at the Treasury Board of Canada — in downtown Ottawa, where they would meet often, Van Beek explained.
“Everywhere I walk here, I’m having lunch with my sister,” he said.
Despite having 14 years between them, Van Beek said his sister was “a great friend” to her younger brother.
“She did everything with me, for me,” he recalled. “She was like a pseudo parent without doing the parental stuff that isn’t fun.”
“I’ll miss her for the rest of my life.”