Grieving moms want coroner's inquest into van crash
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, December 11, 2008 1:25PM EST
FREDERICTON - Almost a year after an accident claimed the lives of seven members of a New Brunswick high school basketball team and the wife of their coach, one mother says her grief doesn't allow her to believe in Christmas anymore.
"It's not the same...it will never be the same," Ana Acevedo said Thursday. "I'm a grieving mother...I'll grieve forever, but you can make it better for me, call for a coroner's inquest."
Acevedo and Isabelle Hains, whose son Daniel was also killed in the crash, held a news conference in Fredericton, demanding the provincial government order a coroner's inquest into the crash.
The van carrying the members of the Bathurst High boys basketball team crossed the centre line of an icy highway near the northern New Brunswick community on the night of Jan. 12 and collided with an oncoming transport truck.
Coach and teacher Wayne Lord, who was driving the van, his daughter and two other team members survived the crash.
Five of the boys who died -- Nathan Cleland, Justin Cormier, Codey Branch, Hains and Acevedo -- were 17 years old. The other two students were Nick Quinn, 16, and Nicholas Kelly, 15.
Earlier this year, an RCMP report said the van would not have passed a safety inspection at the time of the accident. The department's report also found the van had worn tires, broken brakes and a rusting body.
The Transport Canada report by investigator Frank Wilson of the University of New Brunswick also said driver fatigue played a role in the tragedy.
It said the driver was approaching 16 hours of on-duty activity when the accident occurred, and that the last three hours of the trip took place as driving conditions deteriorated because of the weather.
The mothers say there are still unanswered questions despite those reports.
"Why is it taking so long for a coroner's inquest," said Isabelle Hains. "A coroner's inquest is what's needed to make recommendations for the safety standards in the school system to keep our children safe."
Acevedo said they're looking for changes, not a way to lay charges.
"That is not going to bring back our sons. There is no amount of money in the world to replace those lives," she said.
The mothers have launched a website (www.vanangels.ca) and a petition to explain their situation and to gather support for an inquest.
They are also calling for legislation that would prevent students from travelling during bad weather for a school-related event outside their community, and a law regarding who is eligible to drive students to out-of-town events.
Acevedo says they want to ensure safety without doing anything to jeopardize school sports.
"We are not asking to take sports away because I know that sports is a really important part of our children's education," she said. "I know it because I saw it in my son."
Aside from playing basketball, her son Javier was an avid soccer player.
The crash prompted the province to introduce new guidelines for transporting students to extracurricular activities.
The guidelines include using buses to transport groups of 10 students or more and requiring winter tires on vehicles for transporting students from October to April.
Vehicle inspections and service reports must also be sent to the provincial government.
The mothers say they want to know who will own and be responsible for the new larger vehicles and feel an inquest is the only way to get those kinds of answers.
Acting chief coroner Greg Forestell said he is still reviewing the case and should be able to decide in the next week or two whether to conduct an inquest.
Forestell said he was prevented from moving forward until other investigations were complete and until the question of criminal charges was answered.
"With the RCMP announcing just less than a month ago that they wouldn't be pressing charges in this case, then we're able to move forward," he said Thursday.