One of the victims of the fatal Christmas Eve bus crash on B.C.’s Okanagan Connector highway is being remembered as a family man and beloved colleague who lit up every room he entered.
Karanjot Singh has been identified as one of four people who lost their lives when an Ebus lost control in icy conditions between Kelowna and Merritt, rolling over and sending dozens to hospital.
Singh had arrived in B.C. just months earlier on a work permit, and had been getting settled as a chef at Masala Bistro at Kismet Winery in Oliver.
He was on his way to visit family in Surrey for the holidays and to complete an English test necessary to apply for his permanent residency, with hopes of bringing his wife and two children to Canada from the Punjab to start a better life.
“The only dream he had was to get his family here. He missed them a lot. He spent a lot of time away from them,” friend and coworker Anshul Thakur told Global News Tuesday.
“He finally felt like everything was coming into place. All the pieces were coming together.”
Thakur spoke with Singh by phone shortly before the crash, just as the bus headed onto the Okanagan Connector. Singh had called, he said, to make sure Thakur had made it home safe from dropping him at the bus depot.
“We were almost like family. You know, you’re in a new country, you don’t have that connection. So we always had that with us.”
Kistmet chef Howard Collince Michael Samy said colleagues began to worry when they learned Singh hadn’t arrived as planned at his destination.
He described frantic efforts on Christmas Day to track Singh down, until the RCMP finally called with the devastating news, information he later had to relay to Singh’s wife.
“It was difficult for her, so she passed the phone to her father. All she could hear was the bad news. After five minutes she called me, and said ‘brother can you bring my husband back?’ And I didn’t have an answer for that question,” he said, becoming visibly emotional.
“When he is in the kitchen or inside the restaurant, you see it, like, the whole place lights up. He was always happy. You stand next to him you’ll feel happy. He was that kind of a person,” he added.
“We are going to miss him.”
Singh, 41, was one of 45 passengers aboard the Vancouver-bound bus when it rolled.
The RCMP said it was still investigating the cause of the crash Tuesday, but early evidence showed the westbound vehicle had left the road to the left, crossed the median and flipped onto its passenger side in the eastbound lane.
The bus was equipped with seatbelts, but it appears most passengers were not wearing them.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Tuesday the Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement unit was also investigating.
Asked about whether the highway should have been closed Saturday, he said maintenance contractors were out in force and conditions on the route were not unusual for the time of year and were within the specifications set by the province.
Singh’s cousin, a B.C. long-haul trucker with 10 years of experience, however, disputed that assertion.
“This crash was preventable if the road is clean. There is too much icy roads, and that bus company, why are they travelling in icy conditions? Why did they not stop the bus?” Kalwinder Singh asked.
Read more: ‘It happened so fast’: Survivors of fatal B.C. bus rollover question why highway wasn’t closed
Kalwinder said he believes the Ministry of Transportation and its contractors consistently fail to adequately clear the highways in the province’s interior, describing the route from Kamloops to Golden as the worst highway in the country.
A recent haul from Kamloops to Surrey took him 12 hours, he said.
“Too many vehicles, crashes every year. The government doesn’t take care of the highways,” he said.
“They clean always after crash, not clean before. They will wait for the crash and then do something.”
Singh had been on his way to visit Kalwinder in Surrey, and the pair had been making plans for how to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a video call just a half-an-hour before the crash, he said.
Kalwinder said his cousin’s wife and mother were both in “very bad shape.”
“It’s very very, very horrible,” he said. “It’s really horrible.”
Road conditions continue to be scrutinized in the aftermath of the crash.
In its Tuesday update, the RCMP said rain and hail had just started to fall, and road conditions were “fluid,” transitioning from clear, wet roads to frozen with ice and snow on the road surface.
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched for Singh’s family, which by Tuesday evening had raised more than $18,000.
Anyone who witnessed the collision and has not spoken to investigators, or has dash-cam footage of the Ebus prior to the collision, or was a passenger that has not been identified and contacted by police, are asked to contact Cpl. S. Audley via email at: Samantha.firstname.lastname@example.org.
-With files from Kathy Michaels and the Canadian Press