BATHURST, N.B. – Jordan Frenette’s fateful decision to skip his basketball team’s trip to Moncton has left the Bathurst High School student feeling both profound sadness and great relief.
As he headed back to classes Monday, Frenette said he still has trouble believing that seven of his teammates and his coach’s wife died in an accident as they returned to Bathurst early Saturday morning from the Moncton game.
“I have mixed emotions,” said Frenette, one of the captains of the senior varsity basketball team.
“I have lost friends who were as close to me as brothers. At the same time, I have to be happy that I wasn’t in it myself. All of the things that have happened are so contrasting. It’s hard to deal with everything at once.”
Frenette said he decided not to go to Moncton because he hadn’t been feeling well, and he wanted to be in good shape for an important game the team was scheduled to play on Saturday.
“If it hadn’t been for that game, I probably would have made the trip to Moncton,” the 17-year-old said.
The accident happened early Saturday morning when the extended van carrying 12 people swerved in front of a truck on an icy road just outside the northern New Brunswick city of Bathurst.
The eight victims died at the scene. Four people-two basketball players, coach Wayne Lord, who was also the driver, and Lord’s daughter – survived the crash.
Frenette said he has spoken with his two teammates who are recovering from the accident in hospital in Bathurst.
He said they have told him the accident was horrific and happened without warning.
“One of them told me it was almost as like something suddenly pushed the van across the road, just out of nowhere,” Frenette said.
“That’s all he told me about how the accident happened. I’m guessing road conditions.”
Lord, the driver of the van, has not yet said anything publicly about the accident. His wife, Beth Lord, 51, who was a teacher at another school, was killed in the crash.
“I hugged Mr. Lord,” said Dale Branch, whose 17-year-old son, Codey, was killed in the accident.
“That’s about all I can do right now and I’ll keep on hugging him. I’ll see him shortly again and we will talk. He was the coach of my son and a good friend of my son. He treated my son with respect. He’s a great guy.”
Both Frenette and Branch said they understand Lord is having a tough time emotionally dealing with the magnitude of the tragedy.
The RCMP are still investigating, but they have said that icy roads and driving conditions at the time were major factors. They said there was no wrongdoing or illegal activity.
Classes resumed at Bathurst High School on Monday, but they were far from normal.
Grief counsellors from across the province are in the school to help console students and staff.
“Sitting home alone won’t help,” said Branch, who carried with him a scrapbook filled with pictures of his son.
“Being around their friends, hugging each other and talking, that’s the best way to do it. It’s a start.”
Codey Branch, one of the star players on the varsity team, had recently transferred to Bathurst High School from a neighbouring French school so he could play with the Phantoms.
Branch said Codey loved the game. He said all of the players were close.
“They were friends,” he said.
“They went to the gym together and they would meet at houses at night. It was a true team on the court and off. It was truly great to watch.”
He said he was deeply moved when he learned that the Toronto Raptors basketball team had held a moment of silence before their NBA game on Monday in memory of the dead boys.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Branch said, fighting tears.
“It was touching and it certainly helps. It’s good for the families to see something like that It’s overwhelming, really, and it does help with the grieving process. “
He said the families who lost loved ones have been helped by the outpouring of sympathy from across Canada and at home.
Frenette said the accident has finished the senior varsity team for this year. He said there are only four players left.
Visitations for the seven boys who died in the crash are planned for Tuesday at a local hockey rink, with a public funeral on Wednesday.
A private funeral service for Beth Lord will be held Thursday.