One year after a fatal bus rollover at the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park, Devon Ernest still can’t sleep well.
He was on a mountain vacation with his girlfriend, Dionne Durocher, who was just 24-years-old at the time.
She didn’t survive.
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It was the final day of the Saskatchewan couple’s adventure through the mountains and Durocher’s first time visiting the area.
“The whole reason why we went to the mountains, was for a belated birthday for me… I planned it all out, and I have this really heavy guilt on me,” Ernest said.
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Ernest, 24, is still recovering from his injuries, but he is also dealing with the lingering psychological trauma of the crash.
“I’m in bad shape right now, just still mourning over my girlfriend. I’ve been suffering a lot of from anxiety and depression,” he said.
“I feel like I lost a lot and my life has been flipped upside down.”
There were 27 people, including the driver, on board the tour bus operated by tourism company Pursuit.
Three people were killed and 14 others suffered life-threatening injuries on July 18 when the red-and-white, all-terrain Ice Explorer lost control while carrying passengers on the road to the Athabasca Glacier.
The bus rolled about 50 metres down a moraine embankment before coming to rest on its roof.
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Alberta RCMP continue to investigate the rollover and have not released any new information. This week, police said they expect to release their report on the investigation in the fall.
Pursuit senior communications manager, Tanya Otis, said in an email to Global News that Alberta Occupational Health and Safety gave the company a green light to reopen the Columbia Icefield Adventure in August 2020, but that was delayed.
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Otis said the company made the decision to delay reopen to this past spring “out of respect for those affected.”
“Since then, we have performed an extensive audit on our internal safety measures and process. From these internal investigations, we have implemented a number of measures. This includes having seat belts installed in all vehicles,” she said.
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But the company restarting operations doesn’t sit right with some of the victims.
Vinay Patel was on the bus with his wife, as well as ten family members and close friends. He doesn’t understand how the company can be offering tours again while the RCMP investigation is underway.
“The investigation was still not completed and we don’t know what was exactly wrong,” Patel said.
“We fully support business operation, but at the same time, not with someone’s life at stake. They should have at least waited until RCMP completed their reports.”
Patel suffered a back injury and six broken ribs. He also has scarring across his body, and continues to need treatment. His wife has ongoing back pains and hasn’t been able to return to work.
Kamleshbhai Patel and Griva Patel — the other two victims who died in the crash — were part of his group.
“I (remember) searching for my wife and looking at people who are bleeding… not in a position to even be recognized. It was a very tragic moment,” Patel said.
“We lost our loved ones, and we need justice.”
There are multiple lawsuits pending against Pursuit. Ernest is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed in August last year.
Basil Bansal with Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP is representing seven victims, including Kamleshbhai Patel, in a separate lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the operators failed to ensure the bus was safe, failed to provide seatbelts, employed a driver who acted recklessly and unreasonably, failed to carry out proper inspections and failed to properly train their drivers.
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“I think the biggest thing here is psychological injuries,” Bansal said.
“This wasn’t like any other car accident: this was a tourist activity, they were hoping for a certain outcome and something else happened.”
In the statement of claim, it says the company was acting recklessly and unreasonably in failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that the tour bus and road were properly maintained, the operator of the tour bus was qualified and failed to take proper precaution and due care when operating the bus.
These claims have not been tested in court and Pursuit has not yet filed a statement of defence.
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“We don’t want this to happen again. It’s unfortunate that it happened to our clients and they should get compensation because they suffered a loss,” Bansal said.
“We want to ensure that going forward, that this is being done safely.”
Otis said Pursuit is continuing to work closely with its insurance providers and the various government agencies to do all it can to support those involved and their families.
Patel said he is in touch with many people who were on the bus that day, and almost everyone continues to struggle.
“It’s a year now, and we lost our loved ones. They are never going to be forgotten.”
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