Thursday, January 12, 2023

15 Anniversary of Boys in Red a Sombre Event: A reminder of the danger of 15 passenger vans

Memorial for Boys in Red 2023
15 years after the fatal 15-passenger van collision that took the lives of 7 young Bathurst High School basketball players, a memorial was held at the site of the collision to remember the lives lost and the changes that occurred in the wake of their deaths.

Isabelle Hains' son Daniel was just 17 years-old when he was killed along with his 6 teammates and the coach's wife at 12:08 am on January 12, 2008. The BHS Phantoms basketball team were returning to Bathurst after playing a game in Moncton, New Brunswick. 

It was late in the night, in a blinding snowstorm on icy roads with freezing rain and ice pellets when the driver lost control and slammed into a semi-tractor trailer just minutes outside of Bathurst at the junction of Highway 8 and 11.

In the wake of the senseless tragedy, a Coroners Inquest in May 2009 found that the van was unfit for travel and not properly maintained. Most importantly, the jury found that the New Brunswick Department of Education guidelines and regulations governing the use of  15 passenger vans for transporting students to extra-curricular activities were not followed. 

Recommendations from the Coroner's Jury led to changes in legislation which permanently banned the use of 15 passenger for student transportation in New Brunswick. Several provinces also enacted similar legislation. The mother's advocacy at the federal level also led to significant changes in student transportation, which resulted in the preferred use of Multi Function School Activity Buses (MFSAB) for schools.

The long story of the Boys in Red and the many challenges faced by the mothers seeking justice for their  children was detailed in the book "Driven" by Richard Foot.

Despite some positives changes in provincial and federal legislation, 15 passenger vans are still in wide use across Canada and the United States, especially by non-profit organizations, church groups and migrant workers. As recently as September 2022, 5 passengers were killed and 5 seriously injured in a horrific crash in Arkansas. See link

"A van servicing a school for disabled adults collided with a large truck in southeast Arkansas, killing five and injuring five, according to authorities. Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, said that the 15-passenger van belonged to C.B. King Memorial School, a nonprofit organization serving people with developmental delays or disabilities in a number of southeast Arkansas counties, as per its website. Police said that the victims fall between the ages of 19 and 73, and that both drivers are among the injured. It currently seems that the van’s driver “did not see the oncoming traffic” and failed to yield when crossing U.S. Highway 65, according to Sadler."

In November, 2022, 8 migrant workers were injured and the driver of the truck they collided with was killed in London, Ontario. See link

"The circumstances of Sunday morning’s crash seem eerily similar to the deadly collision that happened Feb. 6, 2012, in Hampstead, a rural area near Stratford.

A trucker headed home to London to celebrate his anniversary, and a 15-passenger van driven by a migrant worker, collided, killing the trucker and 10 migrant workers from South America. The van driver had failed to stop at a stop sign."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Highway 8 Memorial is a Sacred Place

High school friends of Boys in Red
at highway memorial on January 12, 2008.
(Note: This article was reprinted from January 12, 2010. On Friday night, January 11, 2019, we will be at the memorial site on Highway 8 from 9 pm until after 12 a.m. to honour the Boys in Red who died 11 years ago a few minutes after midnight.)

We hear that the Mayor of Bathurst, Stephen Brunet, wants people to stop going to the crash site on Highway 8 near Bathurst where a spontaneous memorial was erected by friends and family of the Boys in Red who were killed two years ago today on January 12, 2008.

He says the area is dangerous and he wants people to concentrate their efforts on building a memorial in downtown Bathurst with the funds that were raised from public donations in the aftermath of ours sons deaths.

While we agree that we need to complete the planned memorial in downtown Bathurst, and that Highway 8 is not the safest place, as evidenced by the death of our children there, we believe it would be pointless to try to stop people from visiting the memorial that has existed along Highway 8 for two years today.

Instead, why not make the memorial on Highway 8 a safer place for the people who will keep going there - no matter what anyone says - because it has become a "sacred site".

Since the day our sons were killed people have been stopping along Highway 8 at the very spot where the tragic collision took place. It is a remote place, surrounded by woods on both sides for miles, a broad swath of snow in the winter separates the two lanes from the forest and in the summer scruffy weeds and grass grow there.

To someone who doesn't know the significance of the place it looks like any other stretch of rural highway. But once they see that basketball net along the side of the road, the place takes on a completely different meaning.

It has, for all intents and purposes, become a "sacred site", no less than a cemetery or a cenotaph. It is the place where the tragedy that took our sons' lives happened. It cannot be erased from memory. It is what it is.

It is a memorial.

Until last summer, there were two basketball nets facing each other about fifty feet apart and strewn along the ground between the nets were dozens of basketballs, rugby balls, teddy bears, sport shirts, baseball caps, sports medals, hand written notes and photos of the boys. Those two nets stood there, like a sentinel along the side of the road for more than a year. Then last summer, the old nets came down, the area was cleared and the old memorial was replaced with another beautiful basketball memorial that was made by one of the fathers and his friends in honour of his son and the other Boys in Red.

Meantime, more and more people continue to stop at the site because it has become a "sacred place". We believe that even if the new memorial was removed, it will be impossible to stop friends and family from going there again and creating another one in memory of their sons.

So although the Mayor may be well-intentioned, fearing that an accident may occur, we want to say as the parents of the boys who were killed on January 12, 2008 that it will be impossible to stop people, including us, from going to the memorial to the Boys in Red on Highway 8 because it is a "sacred site", no less than the proposed memorial to the Boys in Red that is planned for downtown Bathurst.

There are hundreds and thousands of similar "sacred sites" scattered along roads and highways across Canada and the United States, where relatives and friends go to remember their loved ones who never made it home. You see them in every community, crosses with fresh and sometimes wilted bouqets of flowers, others with photographs of the man, woman or child who was killed, a teddy bear, a favourite object, a tender photo are there to remind the living that the person who died at that very spot was loved and is remembered forever.

So to the mayor we say: nobody can stop the survivors, family and friends from going to these places along the side of the road because they are sacred to them. A spiritual connection has been made and no Department of Transportation or City Council can make them stop. To try would be folly.

We believe the memorial on Highway 8 and the planned memorial in downtown Bathurst can co-exist. We suggest that the City of Bathurst and the Department of Transportaton work with the victims' families to build a second permanent memorial to the Boys in Red on Highway 8 in the form of a rest area where travellers can safely park their cars and pause for a moment to reflect on the significance of site. It would be a peaceful place, a place where passersby can stop safely to remember the lives of the children who lost theirs so tragically on January 12, 2008.

(Note: This article was reprinted from January 8, 2010.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

VAN ANGELS remind Canadians of the important "Safety Guidelines For The Use of 15-Passenger Vans" after recent van crash in Fields, BC

The crash of 2006 Ford E350 15 passenger van in Fields, BC in November 2018 has put the spotlight on these type of vehicles. In this image from the owners' Instagram account, you can see the van was towing a heavy trailer:
"...for bands that tour Canada in the winter, an accident like this is a nightmare constantly in the back of our minds."
A recent roll over in Fields, BC involving a 2006 Ford E350 15 passenger van has once again put a spot light on these types of vehicles. On November 9, 2018 this incident involving a Calgary band is a stark reminder that it is extremely important (life and death scenario) to recognize and understand that these type of vans handle differently than other passenger vehicles, especially when fully loaded with people and luggage / equipment / gear. 

Click here to read article on CBC about 15 passenger van crash in Fields, British Columbia, Canada.

Our VAN ANGELS transportation safety advocacy group was established after the loss of our sons in two separate 15 passenger van incidents in 2008. On January 12, 2008, 7 players from the Bathurst  High School boys' basketball team and the coach's wife died in a  1997 Ford E350 15-passenger van collision with a semi-tractor trailer (now forever remembered as the 'Boys' in Red')​. Again in 2008, on September 25, a 26 year old drummer with the Vancouver indie rock group, the Hotel Lobbyists, died in a 1994 Ford E350 15-passenger van rollover outside Brandon, Manitoba.

These two tragic and deadly events led our VAN ANGELS group to lobby for the banning of 15-passenger vans in Canada, to request a safety review of these vans, and to push for a nation-wide informational format to educate the public to specific safety issues associated with these particular vehicles. We were able to accomplish two of these goals.  Transport Canada did conduct a 2 year safety review of the vans (2010-2012) and then tasked the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) to develop a national approach to delivering the safety message to the public. In 2013, each province and territory sent out SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR THE USE OF 15-PASSENGER VANS, to every registered 15-passenger van owner in Canada.

Although 10 years have passed since the deaths of our sons in 2008,  many new Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards CMVSS) have  become mandatory features such as ESC and side air bags. The design of   the 15-passenger van's  with its high centre of gravity / top heavinest still makes abrupt or sudden steering manoeuvres a dangerous challenge. Even today, the mandatory roof crush standards for regular passenger cars is still higher than the minimum safety standards for a  15-passenger van and consequently rollovers can severely compromise the passenger compartment. Nothing has changed as far as the loading of passengers and cargo:  the way the van is loaded and the distrbution of the weight can change how it handles.  It is important to know that roof racks, rear cargo boxes and tow trailers should be avoided as they will negatively affect the handling and control of this type of vehicle. Proper tires and tire pressure is another important factor that needs to be maintained and inspected regularly. For some vehicles, the required tire pressure can be different for the front and rear tires.

We strongly urge Canadians to review these SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR THE USE OF 15-PASSENGER VANS:​​

Our Van Angels group is still adamant that 15 passenger vans are 'death traps'. They were originally designed to carry cargo and they were never redesigned to transport human beings. It has been 5 years since the safety guidelines been issued by the ccmta and it is evident that public awareness is still lacking. The vans were never banned nation wide, although many provinces did banned them for school use. The fact remains these vans on our highways are dangerous. 

From the band's Instagram account "The van and trailer rolled on the way from Vancouver to Toronto. Everyone is ok, we feel very lucky. I can’t say how grateful I am that everyone is alive... for bands that tour Canada in the winter, an accident like this is a nightmare constantly in the back of our minds. "

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Statement on Humboldt Bronco Hockey Team Tragedy

Our Van Angels group is truly heartbroken by the terrible news of the bus crash involving the Humboldt Bronco hockey team, on Friday April 6, 2018.

We know from our own personal experience that there are no words to adequately describe the emotional devastation of such a sudden and tragic loss on the lives of the families, friends and the community.

“The Humboldt Bronco hockey team bus tragedy has brought back an overwhelming flood of painful memories for me,” said Isabelle Hains, whose 17 year old son, Daniel, was killed along with six  members of the Bathurst High School Phantoms basketball team and the coach's wife on January 12, 2008.

“I know how you are feeling and you are not alone. There are people who love and care for you and want to help. Gather them around you for support.”

Our group sends our heartfelt sympathies and you are all in our thoughts.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Van Angels: On 10th Anniversary "Our Message Remains The Same"

On the tenth anniversary of the ‘Boys In Red’ tragedy, our Van Angels group remains committed to educating the public on the safest mode of transportation for students and other small travelling groups (daycare, farmer workers and church groups etc).

Our message is always the same even after ten years: the Multi-function School Activity Bus (MFSAB) is the best alternative choice for transporting students. Transport Canada (TC) has always said that the safest mode of transportation for students is a yellow school bus. It is mandatory for school children across Canada to be transported in yellow school buses to and from school. Students participating in after school activities should also be driven in an alternative vehicle built to the same high safety standards called the MFSAB.

Over the years, our Van Angels advocacy work for changes in student transportation and public information resulted in TC conducting a safety review of students extra-curricular transportation vehicles, including 15 passenger vans. The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) was then tasked with reviewing the results. CCMTA’s findings determined that 15 passenger vans meet all federal manufacturing requirements/standards and that they were generally found to be as safe as other highway vehicles of similar capacities.

Similar capacity vehicle, including the 15 passenger van means any vehicle with a designated seating capacity of more than 10 and is defined under the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSR) as a bus. Not all buses are built the same.

When the CCMTA review stated that 15 passenger vans were as safe as other highway vehicles of similar capacities, all this means is that all vehicles on Canadian roads must meet minimum Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). The actual truth is that the yellow school bus and MFSAB is built to a higher safety standard. Imagine the uproar if our federal government would of said anything different. The regulators and auto manufacturers share common interest and protect each other when it comes to saying that one vehicle is safer than another. Auto manufactures are only required by law to meet minimum safety standards. Depending on the make and model, manufacturers may chose to build their vehicles to standards higher than the CMVSS, but the yellow school buses and MFSAB must always be built to a mandatory higher safety standard.

We believe that the 15 passenger van is NOT the best alternative choice for student or small group transport. This type of “bus” is only required to meet minimum safety standards.

The minimum safety requirements is what made the 15 passenger van dangerous: lower roof crush resistance then a family car, lack of reinforced sides and a high centre of gravity. They were originally manufactured to carry cargo not humans.

Safety standards have increased over the past 10 years but if you are in an accident (rollover and or collision) you still want the chance of survivability and nothing will help if the compartment around you crushes like a tin can. This is the reason our Van Angel group fought to bring the MFSAB into the Canadian Motor Vehicle Classification system. Our boys were killed in 15 passenger vans that only met minimum vehicle safety standards.

Both the yellow school bus and the MFSAB have reinforced body side panels (CMVSS #221 School Bus Body Joint Strength), a rollover protection cage (CMVSS #220 Rollover Protection) and emergency back exit, (CMVSS #217 Bus Emergency Exit).

Safe transportation for students and small groups does not need to be an issue. There are alternative vehicles available that are built to yellow school bus standards called the MFSAB.

The Boys In Red tragedy killed 7 innocent boys and the coaches wife. We do not want any other family to lose a child.

Isabelle Hains who lost her son Daniel on January 12, 2008 says “If I knew what I know now I would of never have let my son in those 15 passenger vans known as ‘death traps on wheels’.

Written by: 

Isabelle Hains, who lost her 17 year old son, Daniel, in the ‘Boys In Red’ tragedy, when the 15 passenger van they were travelling in collided with a semi-tractor trailer in the early morning of January 12, 2008.

Stella Benedetti Gurr, who lost her 26 year old son, Michael, in a single vehicle 15 passenger van rollover on September 25, 2008.

10th Anniversary of Boys in Red January 12, 2018: Isabelle Hains’ Tireless Activism in Wake of Son’s Death Changed the Face of Student Transportation Safety in Canada

By Melynda Jarratt

The last time Isabelle Hains saw her son Daniel alive was on the morning of Friday, January 11, 2008, when she dropped him off at Bathurst High School.
It was the first week of classes after Christmas holidays and Daniel’s last semester before graduation in June. On the short drive to school, mother and son talked about his upcoming 18th birthday party and of his plans to postpone university for a year to travel overseas.

But Isabelle was concerned about an Environment Canada winter storm alert for later in the day. Daniel and his fellow players on the BHS Phantoms basketball team had an away game that evening in Moncton and it was a long drive back at night. The boys would travel in a 15-passenger van driven by their coach, Wayne Lord.

"Don't worry Mom" said Daniel "if the weather is bad, we'll spend the night in Moncton."

With a hug and a goodbye kiss, Daniel disappeared into the school.

Eight minutes after midnight, while on the return trip from Moncton, the High School's 15-passenger van collided with a semi-tractor trailer. Seven of the basketball players and the coach's wife were killed. Nothing would ever be the same for the victims' families, the City of Bathurst or the province of New Brunswick.

Within weeks of her son's death, Isabelle started asking questions about why the basketball team was on the road that night. In her search for answers, Isabelle was transformed from a self-described "ordinary" mother into one of Canada's leading transportation safety advocates, turning her personal grief into a national student transportation safety campaign.

Immediately after the tragedy 15-passenger vans were banned in New Brunswick for student transportation. Later Quebec, PEI, and Newfoundland also banned the vehicles and a patchwork quilt of prohibitions emerged across Canada. But as Isabelle soon found out, the same vans were already banned in Nova Scotia since 1994 after a similar tragedy involving a school hockey team.

Isabelle was also shocked to discover that the NB Department of Education already had a student transportation policy in place with guidelines to protect students. The guideline states that groups travelling out of town should be prepared to stay overnight if weather or road conditions present a hazard.

“The problem,” says Isabelle, “Is that the policies, regulations, rules and guidelines were not being enforced by school officials or anyone else.”

She and another mother started a website,, demanding that the province order a Coroners Inquest into the tragedy. After months of relentless lobbying the Inquest was held in May 2009. The inquest resulted in 24 recommendations to improve student transportation including one which stated that 15-passenger vans should be banned for student use across Canada.

After the Inquest, Isabelle thought it was all over: what she found out was that the work had just begun.

In October 2009 Isabelle discovered the Multi-Function Activity Bus (MFAB) being used by BHS was outfitted with all season tires in the front and winter tires on the back. The MFAB had been donated by local busineses in the wake of the tragedy to replace the now banned 15-passenger vans. Its bright red colour with the Phantoms logo was becoming a familiar sight around town.

Isabelle contacted leading tire experts in Canada and the United States. They agreed the BHS bus should have winter tires all around.

“It seemed a no-brainer to us,” says Isabelle, “But when we challenged the provincial government to change the tires they refused.”

In February 2010, she and two other mothers travelled to Continental Tires’ research facility in Michigan to prove the importance of all winter tires on MFABs. The same day, Transport Canada released similar test results advising that winter tires were recommended on these type of buses, forcing the NB Departments of Education and Transportation to act upon this proof.

In May 2010, Isabelle and the Van Angels group journeyed to Ottawa to witness the introduction of Bill C-522 by Acadie-Bathurst MP, Yvon Godin. By now the group had grown to include other safety advocates from unions representing school bus drivers across Canada. The Bill would have made it a criminal offense to use 15-passenger vans for student transport in Canada. Although the Bill was never passed, one month later Transport Canada announced a safety review of 15-passenger vans for student transport and tasked the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) with developing a national approach.

This set the stage for a fall 2010 CCMTA annual meeting in Halifax with Transport Canada and the provincial and territorial Ministers of Transportation. At the same time, Isabelle's Van Angels had aligned themselves with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) which firmly believed that the Multi-Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB), built to school bus standards, would be an acceptable alternate vehicle for extra-curricular student transport.

At the Halifax meeting, the group was adamant that crash-worthiness testing be included in the safety review. They also requested the recognition of a MFSAB as a sub-category of a school bus in the Canadian motor vehicle classification system.

Two years later, in the crash-worthiness testing, the official Safety Review showed that passengers in a MFSAB had a greater chance of survival than those in a 15-passenger van. This was a significant victory for Isabelle and the Van Angels.

That same year, the book DRIVEN by Richard Foot revealed the harsh and surprising truth behind the Boys In Red tragedy and the Van Angels’ determination for justice and accountability.

“DRIVEN is an important book that tells a side of the story not covered in the media,” said Isabelle.

Then in 2013 the CCMTA released 'Safety Guidelines for the Use of 15-Passenger Vans'. The pamphlet clearly stated that these vans handle differently than other passenger vehicles when fully loaded with people and or luggage or equipment. It also advised drivers to slow down on wet or icy roads as the vans do not respond well to abrupt steering manoeuvres.

“The guidelines confirm how dangerous 15-passenger vans are,” says Isabelle, asking, "Why would anyone put their precious children in these death traps?”

In 2015, after nearly five years of behind the scenes lobbying and consultation with federal transportation officials, a new and distinct definition called the MFSAB was added to the vehicle classification system under the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Isabelle explains: "The MFSAB was a huge accomplishment. It means that school boards looking for a safe vehicle to transport students to extra-curricular activities have an alternative to 15-passenger vans. The MFSABs are built to the same high motor vehicle safety standards as the yellow school bus and we are hopeful that they will become the most logical and best choice for student transportation in Canada.”

In the closing days of 2017, the City of Bathurst passed a resolution that an official day of mourning would be forever recognized on January 12 in honour of The Boys in Red.

Every year on that day, flags will be flown at half mast in remembrance of the seven members of the Bathurst High School Phantoms basketball team and the coaches wife.

"For such a long time, I felt Daniel and his teammates had been forgotten,” says Isabelle. “It took a new mayor and new administration to make a promise that our boys will always be remembered."

On the tenth anniversary of the Boys in Red tragedy, Isabelle Hains and her Van Angels group can take some solace knowing that their tireless efforts brought national attention and positive changes to student transportation safety in Canada.

“At the beginning, all I wanted to know was why my son Daniel and six other boys died,” said Isabelle. “When we got the Inquest and discovered the extent of the educational system’s failures to protect our children, I knew we had no choice but to force changes so that no other parent would have to go through what we did.”

"If I had known then what I know now, I would never have let my son get in that van that day,” says Isabelle. “I lost my son and I’ll never get him back, but Daniel, Javier, Nathan, Justin, Codey, Nickolas, Nikki and Beth Lord did not die in vain. Their names will forever be connected to student transportation safety in Canada.”