Thursday, September 19, 2013

So Many Questions

I know how that drive goes.

I've taken countless buses along that stretch of the transitway at all hours of the day. Usually, I rode one of the first express buses of the day, long before the rush hour traffic even started. But I would sometimes be later, would sometimes be in the crush of commuters who used the mass-transit system to get out of Barrhaven, to get to work.

I've been on the 76 before. During rush hour, the bus would be packed to the front doors, standing-room only, and if you boarded at Fallowfield Station, your chance of a vacant seat was nil.

The bend in the transitway, as it snakes from Fallowfield Station to join up and run parallel with Woodroofe, is gentle, easy to negotiate. As the roadway prepares to straighten out, the VIA rail crossing is clearly visible, the approach of any west-bound train obvious.

I know this, because I have sometimes either sat or stood at the front of a bus. I know that when the crossing signs light up and the barriers come down, an approaching bus has plenty of time to react, to slow to a stop. The train, because it is slowing in advance of the station, takes a long time to reach the intersection.

The weather at 8:48 was spectacular. The sun had already climbed well above the relatively flat horizon. The sun would not have been an issue anyway: it would not have risen in the line of the driver's sight. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Any morning mist had, by that hour, burned off the open fields.

I was listening to the radio when the report came in. I was shocked: how could such an accident happen there? I turned on the television and saw that media crews were already on scene. When I saw the extent of the damage, I didn't believe my eyes, didn't want to believe them.

The collision happened only a couple of minutes from my home. I remembered hearing sirens, but dismissed them as a response to a minor fender-bender, possibly a fire. Because I was working from home, I didn't give the sounds another thought.

Until I heard the news on the radio. Until I turned on the TV.

My mind immediately tried to make sense of the situation. The driver must have been distracted: possibly, a passenger had stolen his attention; perhaps he was talking to a dispatcher; surely not, but perhaps he was texting?

Surely not. I didn't want to believe that a city bus driver would text while driving, so I put that thought out of my head.

Maybe, the driver, Dave Woodard, had a medical emergency? A heart attack, a stroke, an aneurism? As horrible as it may sound, I'm sure people are clinging to the possibility that the driver had a catastrophic physical crisis, something that prevented him from maintaining control of the bus. Something beyond his or anyone else's control.

As tragic as that sounds, it ends most of the questions surrounding this horrific tragedy and perhaps bring some closure for the victims and their families.

The media are all over this story, looking for causes, for reasons why this accident happened. All afternoon, as I tried to work, the dull throb of helicopter blades cut the air in the skies above my neighbourhood. Speculation has fingers pointed in all directions, from the driver of the train, the condition and safety of the crossing, the management of OC Transpo, to the response time of city emergency responders and the Transportation and Safety Board.

And the questions continue.

But before speculations get out of hand, before people jump to conclusions and start shaking fists, we need to be patient and wait for the facts to come to light. And while we're waiting, we need to remember those who are no longer with our community.

Ottawa grieves the loss of six people, with more than 30 injured. Our thoughts are with those involved or close to those involved. It's a small city, and Barrhaven and South Nepean is a close-knit community.

Until answers to our questions are found, we should focus on the survivors and the families and loved ones of the victims, to continue to be there for them and for each other.

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