Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Bus company faces investigation after Coquihalla crash

B.C. Ministry of Transportation to audit Richmond-based Universal Coach Lines
Crash on Coquihalla
A tour bus crash on the Coquihalla injured dozens of people on Saturday. June 27, 2015

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation said it will conduct an audit of Richmond-based Universal Coach Lines after a crash Saturday sent 38 to hospital.

The company's tour bus slammed into a car and set off a multiple-vehicle crash that closed the northbound lane on the Coquihalla Highway in B.C.'s southern Interior for most of the day.

The ministry said it is working closely with the RCMP to investigate the cause of the crash, including a review of UCL's drivers and the mechanical operation of its buses.

"I understand the road was bare and dry and the incident happened on a straight section of highway," said the minister in a statement.

B.C. Mounties said Sunday charges are pending, but it could be weeks before any are laid.

"There are still lots of questions to be answered," said RCMP Cpl. Chris Newel.

The crash was triggered by a chain reaction that started with a collision between a vehicle and a deer. The owner of the car had called for a tow truck, but shortly after the truck arrived, it was struck by the tour bus, which was headed northbound just south of Brookmere, B.C., about 40 kilometres south of Merritt.

The three-vehicle crash brought traffic to a standstill as emergency crews, including at least two helicopters and 12 ambulances, responded to the crash and the northbound lane was closed to traffic.

The Interior Health Authority said Sunday all but two of the 25 patients in its care had been discharged. It did not release details about the condition of the two remaining patients, except to say one is in Kelowna and the other in Kamloops.

The BC Ambulance Service said on Saturday two people suffered life-threatening injuries.

Hospitals in the Fraser Health Authority took in 13 patients after the crash. None sustained serious injuries, but the authority didn't say how many were still in hospital.

RCMP said both the tour guide, who was reportedly working for Universal Coach Lines, and the tow truck operator — from Mario's Towing in Kelowna — sustained serious injuries.

Wendy Georgenson said the tow truck was just hooking onto the car when the bus crashed into it. About five people were standing around the truck at the time, she said.

"That's where one guy broke his leg. One guy was holding his ribs and puking. They were screaming. It was mayhem," she said. "Then the bus hit the railing and it was like out of a movie. It was just horrible."

C.J. Hodgson said she was travelling southbound at around 10:30 a.m. when she passed a tour bus with severe damage to its front end. "The front third or so of the bus is either ripped off or smashed in. It's wide open. You can see into the bus,'' she said.

She said the hoods of a tow truck and a small car were smashed in and the airbags were inflated.

Hodgson said the bus appeared to have crashed into a highway railing and a handful of people were looking over it at the drop below. Another group of people were standing on the road.

"It's scary, especially with the people looking over the edge," said Hodgson. "It's a big drop. If they're looking for something other than their belongings, that's scary."

Kyla Guido was driving southbound when she saw the smashed tour bus in the northbound lane. She said she saw at least two passengers lying on the road.

She said the tow truck was sideways on the highway with damage, and a small red car also appeared to have significant damage.

The crash prompted Merritt's Nicola Valley Hospital to issue a Code Orange, which included bringing in more nurses and housekeeping staff to prepare the hospital for a potential influx of patients, while Fraser Health Authority, which operates hospitals east of Vancouver, was also prepping its hospitals, particularly for serious or critical cases.

"We were informed very shortly after it happened for the potential of some of these patients coming to our hospitals," said Fraser Health spokeswoman Lisa Thibault. "They just ensure everyone is on alert and space is cleared out if required. Obviously anytime there are mass casualties we coordinate efforts to take care of patients when they come in."

The crash occurred not far from another one last August, involving a B.C. tour bus.

With files from Canadian Press