Thursday, December 18, 2008

N.B. coroner calls inquiry into Bathurst van tragedy

Click here to read story on CBC website

The New Brunswick government is launching a coroner’s inquest into the crash that killed seven members of the Bathurst High School basketball team and one teacher after a school van collided with a transport truck almost a year ago.

Greg Forestell, the province's acting chief coroner, met with the parents of the boys involved in the heartrending highway crash on Thursday morning, where he delivered the long-awaited decision to study the events that contributed to the incident.

A coroner’s inquest brings together jury members who listen to days of expert testimony and witnesses' accounts. At the end, they offer a list of non-binding recommendations surrounding policy reforms that can be undertaken by the government.

A coroner’s inquest does not attempt to pinpoint blame for a death it investigates.

Two mothers have been putting pressure on the provincial government in recent weeks to call an inquest into the van crash.

Isabelle Hains and Ana Acevedo held a news conference last week in Fredericton where they said they believe a coroner's inquest could lead to improved safety regulations that could prevent a similar tragedy.

The small northern city of Bathurst was devastated on Jan. 12, when the van carrying the Bathurst High School boys basketball team collided with a transport truck in icy winter conditions just minutes from home. After consulting with Crown prosecutors, the RCMP announced in November that no charges will be pressed in connection with the crash.

The mothers are also pushing for a law to prevent students from travelling during bad weather while they are out of town on a school-related event. The road conditions on the night last January were treacherous from freezing rain and snow.

A report released by the RCMP earlier this year found the van involved in the collision was in poor condition. Another report by Transport Canada found the driver had been awake for 16 hours and was driving in poor weather conditions.

Those reports have resulted in some changes to transportation policies for extra-curricular school activities, including the banning of 15-passenger vans and the mandatory use of winter tires.