A Quebec man was charged with first-degree murder in the fatal bus crash at a daycare that killed two children and hospitalized six others Wednesday in Laval, just north of Montreal.
Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, was allegedly driving the bus when it careened into the Garderie Éducative Ste-Rose. Laval police arrested him at the scene.
The accused, who has been a city bus driver for about a decade, faces nine charges — including two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault.
St-Amand appeared by videoconference from a Montreal-area hospital Wednesday afternoon. He will remain detained until his next appearance on Feb. 17.
The Crown prosecutor said there were discussions over a possible psychiatric evaluation, but there will not be one for St-Amand.
His appearance comes shortly after police confirmed six injured children remained in hospital, but their lives are not in danger.
Four injured children were taken to Montreal’s Sainte-Justine pediatric hospital, said Dr. Marc Girard, head of professional services. The preschool-aged children — two boys and two girls — were conscious when they arrived at the hospital and are being evaluated, he told reporters, adding that one child was in intensive care.
“The children who needed more immediate care were sent to a trauma centre that was closer (to the scene),” Girard said.
The Hôpital de la Cité-de-la-Santé in Laval took in three young patients, including one of the children who died. Officials confirmed two children remain under observation, but they could not provide more information about their identities due to confidentiality.
The crash happened around 8:30 a.m., when police were called to the local daycare. Aerial news footage from the scene showed the bus ploughed through the front of the building.
Police said the accused was still being questioned in the early afternoon after his arrest. Laval Mayor Stéphane Boyer said the driver has worked for the transit agency for about 10 years and has no incidents of note on his file.
“There is a theory that it was an intentional act, but that remains to be confirmed by the investigation,” Boyer said.
Ginette Lamoureux and her husband live across from the daycare and ran to help when they heard a huge sound. Her husband helped subdue the driver along with three other men until police arrived.
She said the driver was “hysterical” and wasn’t wearing any pants when he was taken into custody. Lamoureux said she called her daughter, who works at a separate daycare, to come help care for the kids.
“A lot of screaming, crying…,” Lamoureux said when describing the scene. “It was awful. It’s horrible.”
Lamoureux and other witnesses who ran to help said the suspect seemed delirious.
Police set up a large safety perimetre in the area and authorities also used a local school as a meeting point for the parents of children who attend the daycare. A crisis cell was also set up at the school.
Parents, some in tears, could be seen walking away from the school with their young children in their arms. When asked how she felt, one mother said only that she was “relieved.”
Diane Pilon, a grandmother, said she rushed to the daycare after learning of the crash. She said she was relieved to learn her one- and five-year-old grandchildren were doing well, but she said her thoughts were with the families of those injured or killed.
“It’s a test for all parents,” she said.
Investigators will meet with witnesses and check for surveillance footage — and try to determine how and why the crash occurred, police said.
Laval’s public transit authority said in a statement on social media that it was devastated by the tragedy and it will continue co-operating with the police department’s investigation.
Boyer said there will be psychological help available for the affected families, daycare staff and emergency personnel responding to the crash.
Late Wednesday, a police cruiser and two officers were stationed outside St-Amand’s home on a quiet suburban street about 10 kilometres from the site of the tragedy.
Several neighbours described the suspect as a quiet, pleasant father of two young girls.
One man, Thanh-Ry Tran, said his family got together with the suspect’s family a few times a year, and their wives would sometimes help each other in picking up or dropping off children. He said the suspect had never shown signs of distress.
Another neighbour, Nader Abou-Said, said he would exchange pleasant greetings with the suspect, and would often see him playing with his daughters in the backyard.
“How can you go out and play with your kids and then go kill kids?” he said.
‘One can only imagine how shattering this is for them’
Canada’s public safety minister said the deaths of the two children are a tragedy and that the federal government is there to offer assistance where needed.
“Our immediate thoughts go to the families of the victims, to the other children who were in the class and to the entire team who work at that daycare,” Marco Mendicino said. “One can only imagine just how shattering this is for for them.”
His provincial counterpart called the fatal crash a “horrible tragedy.” Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel was at the scene with other Quebec MNAs in the early afternoon.
“We offered our condolences to the families,” he said. “We want to say the government will be there to support these families.”
Earlier in the day, Quebec Premier François Legault described the bus crash as “terrible” as details emerged.
“We are going to offer parents all the help we are capable of giving,” he said. “Obviously as a father…I’m shocked. I find it difficult. I can understand the anguish that they are going through right now.”
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was devastated to learn about the crash, adding assistance will be provided but that he knew first responders were very active at the scene.
— with files from Global News’ Dan Spector, Tim Sargeant, Annabelle Olivier, Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press