BATHURST, N.B. – A last-minute seating change may have saved the life of one of the passengers involved in a deadly van crash in northern New Brunswick in Jan. 2008.
Timmy Daley told a coroner’s jury Wednesday, that he always sat in the back seat of the school van when the Bathurst High School basketball team travelled out of town.
But as the team left Moncton, N.B., on that winter night, he had to sit closer to the front after teammate Codey Branch took his seat.
“Codey and I would fight for the back seat,” he said. “I was too slow to get the back seat, so I was sitting up front.”
Daley sat in the middle of the second bench seat of the 15-passenger van, next to Bradd Arseneau – the two of them sharing headphones and listening to music.
Just after midnight, as the team neared Bathurst, the van slid into the path of an oncoming transport truck on a slush covered highway.
The impact sheared off the passenger side and back of the van, violently ejecting the rear bench seats and their occupants from the vehicle.
While Daley and Arseneau survived, seven other players were killed, along with the coach’s wife, Beth Lord, who had been in the front passenger seat.
Driver and coach, Wayne Lord and his daughter Katie – who sat alone with school bags and gym bags in the second seat – also survived the crash.
Daley provided clear and detailed testimony, and said while he was a bit nervous about the slush on the highway that night, he had no concerns about the 11-year-old van or the driving of Lord.
“All of a sudden I felt the back of the van swing and I was pressed against the seat and I saw white lights coming at us.”
The next thing he remembered is being in the ditch and feeling the pain of a broken wrist. He helped Katie until other help arrived.
Leaving the court with his parents on Wednesday, Daley made a point to shout “shotgun” to claim his place sitting in the front seat of the family’s vehicle.
Meanwhile, an RCMP accident reconstructionist presented pictures of the crash scene and detailed the sequence of events to the jury.
Cpl. Annie Neilson said tire marks show the passenger side tires of the school van went off the edge of the pavement, onto the gravel shoulder.
She said the difference in the level of the pavement and the gravel was significant – about six centimetres.
“After the driver of the van took evasive action, the van spun in a counter clockwise direction and across the southbound lane,” she said.
Neilson said the transport truck driver had no time to apply his brakes, and the Mack truck plowed through the van, taking the bench seats and occupants with it.
The officer then described her examination of the seatbelts and said all were in working order – although the finding on one was inconclusive because part of the latch was never found.
However, Neilson said seven of the players were not using their seatbelts at the time of the collision, while the coach’s wife, Beth Lord, and her daughter Katie were not wearing their seatbelts properly.
The only ones using their seatbelts properly were coach and driver Wayne Lord and players Tim Daley and Nick Quinn – Quinn died while the coach and Daley survived.
But Neilson could not say if seatbelts would have saved any of the victims, because the bench seats were violently ejected from the van when it collided with the truck.
Earlier in the day, a senior manager with the provincial Transportation Department said a snowplow driver made six or seven passes on the highway in the six hours before the crash.
“He couldn’t do any better than that,” said Guy Jean.
“I don’t know if adding more plows would do any better, because the salt needs time to do its work.”
Lord earlier testified he couldn’t see the centre line because of the snow on the road and went onto the shoulder as he tried to give the transport truck a wide berth.
Sebastien Morrison and girlfriend Julie Chiasson arrived on the scene moments after the accident.
Morrison told the inquest Wednesday that he stopped and a man asked for help, so he moved his SUV closer and put on his high beams to light the ditch.
Morrison said he got out and started helping people, including Timmy Daley and Katie Lord who waited in his vehicle until emergency personnel arrived.
The inquest continues Thursday with more accident reconstruction testimony.
The inquest was called earlier this year in an effort to make recommendations aimed at preventing a similar accident in the future.
The recommendations are not binding on government, and the jury is not to assign blame.