Family, friends remember victims on anniversary of Manitoba bus crash - Winnipeg |

In the year since a bus crash claimed the lives of 17 seniors from Dauphin, Manitoba, on their way to a casino on a bright late spring day, they have been grieving, supported by their community, slowly returning to normal life and, for some, a long road to recovery.

It also leaves some unanswered questions about the horrific crash, which left the bus on fire, debris scattered everywhere and emergency workers dealing with a chaotic scene of death and injury.

In Dauphin, a city of 8,000 in western Manitoba, almost everyone knows everyone else. Most people know someone who was killed or injured in the accident or are related to the victims.

Next Saturday, the anniversary of the crash, residents will unveil a memorial to the victims.

“Juneteenth will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of most of us,” Dauphin Mayor David Bosiak said in an interview.

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“It's like September 11th. People remember what they were doing that day.”

Don Stokotelny is one of those involved in the tragedy.

His mother, Josephine Stokotelny, 86, has spent the last year recovering from injuries sustained in the crash. She has brain damage, needs a walker and currently requires care.

He also knew the bus driver, whom he had hired before for small group outings, and considered him a caring person.

Stoktelny said he chose forgiveness over anger.

“We used his services to shuttle my mom and some of her friends to other events, so he took care of those people like his own children,” Stoktelny said.

“If he made a mistake, he made a mistake. We accept that and we don't want to pursue it any further.”

The bus, carrying 25 passengers, was heading from Dauphin to a casino near Carberry, two hours south. As the bus neared its destination on Highway 5, it came upon a busy section of the Trans-Canada Highway.

The bus first saw a stop sign, then a yield sign in the median before it began crossing the eastbound lanes of the highway and was hit by a semi.

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RCMP said dashcam video showed the truck had the right of way. The crash caused the bus to catch fire and fall into the ditch.

Josephine Stokotny was thrown from the car and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Her son recalled that she was so badly injured that she couldn't breathe on her own.

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He said: “She was covered in scars from head to toe.”

“She had 17 different devices hooked up to her – tubes, breathing apparatus, etc. For a long time we weren't sure if she was going to make it.”

First responders responded to the scene — ground ambulances and police, then the STARS helicopter. Survivors were taken to hospitals in Brandon, and many were airlifted to the province's main trauma centre in Winnipeg. STARS brought in reinforcements from Saskatchewan.

“It was a devastating scene, according to our staff. Trauma was everywhere they looked,” said Grant Therrien of STARS, who was part of the team that treated and transferred Brandon's patients.

Funerals were held in the days that followed. Some of the initial survivors were taken to hospital but later died. The 17th person to die was 79-year-old Catherine Day, who died a month after the accident.

The bus driver was seriously injured. RCMP said they were unable to speak with the driver, and health officials are not releasing details of the driver's injuries because of a violation of provincial privacy laws.

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The RCMP has filed a report on the incident with the Manitoba Crown Prosecutor's Office, but the office has not yet decided whether to lay charges.

In Dauphin, the tragedy continues. For some, family gatherings and holiday get-togethers are reminders that their loved ones can’t be with them.

“As time went on, the community slowly returned to 'normal.' However, for the 16 or 17 families that were directly affected … they experienced a huge change,” Bosiak said.

The anniversary ceremony will be a chance for family members to once again support each other and “see how everybody is doing,” Stoktelny said.

“Everyone in and around Dauphin has sent him their best wishes and condolences… It’s really unbelievable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 9, 2024.

© 2024 The Canadian Press

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