BATHURST, N.B. – The driver of a van full of high school kids involved in a horrible crash with a truck told an inquest Monday the weather was miserable on the day of the fatal collision in northern New Brunswick.
Seven members of the Bathurst High basketball team and the coach’s wife were killed on Jan. 12, 2008, on a slushy highway.
In his first public comment since the accident, Wayne Lord, the coach and driver of the van, told the coroner’s inquest that visibility was good but it had been snowing and raining that day.
But Lord – who spoke calmly with no show of emotion – said he couldn’t see the centre line.
“The transport truck approached over the crest of the hill,” said Lord. “I wanted to give as wide a berth. I moved to the right and I hit a rut or the edge of the shoulder. When I felt the van pull towards the ditch, I corrected.”
“The van continued in that direction and we were hit by the truck in the southbound lane.”
Lord added that there was no thought of delaying travel that day.
The coach also said he did perform a brief, pre-trip inspection, and always filled out the log book in the van – noting any need for repairs.
However, he said he was never given instruction on how to load the van, and was never offered a driver’s skills course.
Truck driver Austin Ward told the inquest earlier Monday there was little he could do to avoid the crash on Highway 8, just after midnight outside Bathurst.
Ward said the van just suddenly swerved in front of him.
“I saw the (van’s) headlights coming,” Ward testified. “All at once he came across the road in front of me.”
“Only two or three seconds . . . I turned a bit.”
Ward testified that although the roads were slippery, and a light rain was falling, his truck was handling well at the time of the accident.
“I touched the brake, but he was too close to me.”
After the crash, Ward said he walked toward the van and heard voices, including one man asking: “Do you see my kids?”
At that point, he said other vehicles came upon the scene and someone called 911.
A jury of three men and two women was selected Monday to hear the testimony. They will make recommendations to help prevent similar accidents in the future.
Separate reports by the RCMP and Transport Canada identified safety problems with the 15-seat van, including worn all-season tires, broken brakes and a rusting body.
Earlier Monday, coroner Greg Forestell explained the inquest process and read out the names of the people killed in the mishap.
Isabelle Hains, whose son was killed, lowered her head and closed her eyes while the list was read.