Montreal couple stranded at Saint John hostel say they lost everything on the bus

1 / 2
Montreal couple stranded at Saint John hostel say they lost everything on the bus

A Montreal-based couple who planned to make a fresh start in Saint John say they lost everything they owned on a bus trip from Quebec to New Brunswick.

Melanie Liebrecht, 36, and Stephen Burt, 49, say they were stunned when their Orléans Express bus pulled away from the Petro-Canada gas station in Rivière-du-Loup, leaving them behind in the store.

It was around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 4 and they thought it was just a rest stop.

The driver had woken them, they say, and told them to get off, but they didn't realize they were supposed to grab their bags and wait for a Maritime Bus to take them the rest of the way.

"It wasn't like the bus driver said, 'I'm outta here. Make sure you have your luggage,'" said Liebrecht.  

"There was no warning."

Cash, clothes and a cane

Liebrecht said their four suitcases had been stowed below and contained "their whole lives."

She said she thought it was safer putting the valuables out of reach of other passengers, especially on an overnight trip.

She said those suitcases had their cell phones, laptops, clothes, toiletries and their medications.

She said they had also packed about $1,700 in cash, which was going to pay for a first month's rent and deposit on a Saint John apartment.

Burt, who has a disability, said the bus also left with his walking cane on board.

Help from a stranger

While that reality was starting to sink in, the gas station attendant informed them Maritime Bus had cancelled service because of the winter storm.

Stranded in a city where they knew no one, with no money and no phones, Liebrecht and Burt say they had to rely on the charity of another passenger.

They say a man by the name of Holmes Watts, or something similar, had also left the bus without getting his things.

They say he called a friend in Charlottetown who came to pick all three of them up in a minivan and delivered Liebrecht and Burt to Saint John. CBC attempted to find the man but had no success.

"I'll be brutally honest," said Shelly McCready, community ministries co-ordinator at the Salvation Army in Saint John.

"After working several years in this industry, it's a sad commentary on our society that initially you think, 'Yeah, that's just a wild story. That's just incredible.'

"But as I began to work with Stephen and Melanie, and peeled back the layers. I realized that something really did happen here. They really have lost their things."

She added: "They're really in a vulnerable situation."

McCready has been working with the couple every day to help them get on their feet. They've received clothes from the thrift store and made use of the local soup kitchens and food bank.

McCready has also arranged to have them stay at the hostel on Dorchester Street at least until Sunday. She said she's working all her connections to try to find them an apartment.

McCready said  many landlords in the city don't accept cheques, which is why some renters do carry large amounts of cash. She said she's done everything she can to try to track down the luggage.

Bus companies investigating 

She gave the CBC the photocopied ticket stubs and an email she sent to Orléans Express.

So far, she said, her written inquiry hasn't been answered.

It's also been difficult trying to reach anyone at the Montreal office who seems willing or able to help.

She said she has waited on hold for more than an hour. 

Marie Hélène Cloutier, vice-president of passengers experience with Orléans Express, said the company is investigating the incident, but it hasn't yet been in touch with the couple. 

"We're making all of the efforts to understand what happened, but talking with them is the first step that we need to take as urgently as possible," she said. 

As of late Friday afternoon, Orléans Express had not tracked down the luggage either, she said. 

Cloutier said the company is not sure how the luggage was lost but it regrets the incident. 

"Not only do we have regret about that situation, but we want to, in the first place, understand what happened so we can help them as our customers, as we always do," she said. 

CBC News also contacted Maritime Bus.

"We are going to do everything we can to help them find their luggage," said Wenda Pitrie, vice-president of human resources and customer experience.

Pitrie asked for a day to try to get some answers.