Westboro bus crash survivors, families say charges don't bring closure

Some of the survivors of January's fatal Westboro bus station crash and family members of the victims say the decision to lay 38 charges against the driver hasn't brought much closure.

On Friday, Ottawa police laid three charges of dangerous driving causing death and 35 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm against Aissitou Diallo.

Diallo was behind the wheel of the OC Transpo double decker that jumped the curb Jan. 11 and collided with the overhanging portion of the bus station's shelter.

The crash sliced open the roof of the bus, sending passengers flying through the front windshield. Others were crushed when the metal seats slammed together like an accordion.

Three people died and dozens were injured.

'Only part of the story'

"At the rate it's going, it's just a nightmare," said Karen Benvie, whose mother Judy Booth was killed that day.

Benvie said the charges don't offer insight into what happened, why it happened, or what the city or OC Transpo have done to make sure it never happens again. 

More significantly, she worries the driver has become an easy scapegoat. 

"She's only part of the story," Benvie said. "And we don't know the rest of the story."

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Survivors, riders seek answers

Diallo was arrested and released the day of the crash.

Within days, CBC reported that Diallo was a rookie driver on probation and had been involved in a crash one month earlier at St. Laurent station. 

Questions arose about OC Transpo's training process and whether the agency should be held accountable. There were concerns about the safety of double deckers — involved now in two deadly crashes, — as well as the placement of the shelter overhangs at Westboro station.  

Both OC Transpo and the city were also named in civil suits that alleged negligence. 

However, interim police Chief Steve Bell said an eight-month investigation determined no charges would be laid against the city or the transit agency.

"There will be no more further charges coming out of this investigation," said Bell.

Diallo is now scheduled to return to court in mid-September. 

No comfort

Kathryn Rose was on the bus that day and witnessed first-hand the horrific scene on the double decker's second level.

Since then, she suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has trouble getting on public transit and refuses to ride another double decker.

Rose said the charges give survivors no information about what happened or insight into why only the driver is being held accountable.

"I'm feeling for the families of the deceased [and] the badly injured as well at this point, because this can't provide them with much comfort," Rose said.

"At least we're moving forward, I guess."

John Redins, a member of a grassroots organization called Ottawa Transit Riders that formed after the crash, said it was "surprising" the police placed so much blame on the driver.

Redins said he would have liked to have seen an inquiry like the one undertaken by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) following a fatal 2013 crash between an OC Transpo double decker bus and a Via Rail train. 

That inquiry featured a detailed account of what happened and led to recommendations on improving transit safety. The TSB only offered consultation to police, however, following the January crash. 

Jean Delisle/CBC

'They want answers'

University of Ottawa criminologist Steve Bittle said that for those affected by the January crash, the criminal justice process may prove less than satisfying.

"In many of these kinds of cases, they're looking not only for accountability of individuals or organizations ... they want answers as to how this could possibly happen," Bittle said.

Those answers may not come if the driver pleads guilty and there is no trial, or if the civil suits are settled out of court — which is likely, Bittle said.

"It's not going to fulfil that broader notion of justice, of understanding what happened, as a way of potentially also preventing these kinds of things from happening in the future," he said.

As for Benvie, that's exactly the sort of information she's looking for. 

"That would finally give us the closure to move on," she said.