'Everything collapsed': Parents recall heartbreaking mix-up in Humboldt Broncos crash
CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from TSN's Ryan Rishaug
Published Friday, April 5, 2019 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 5, 2019 10:04PM EDT
The parents of the young hockey player killed in the Humboldt Broncos crash who was originally misidentified as a survivor are telling their story for the first time in hopes of sharing more of who their son really was.
Parker Tobin, 18, was one of 16 people killed in the rural bus crash nearly one year ago. But for two days, authorities thought Parker was alive and that 18-year-old Xavier Labelle, who had a similar build and gold-dyed hair, had died on the scene.
As soon as they learned of the horrific crash, Parker’s parents rushed to hospital. They were told that their son was unconscious, but alive.
“They brought us into the room and I do remember looking at him and saying like, that’s not him. And that’s not because it wasn’t him, but just because he was so badly injured it wasn’t anybody I knew,” Parker’s mother, Rhonda Clarke-Tobin, told CTV News.
Because of the severity of Labelle’s injuries, the parents didn’t realize that a mistake had been made. Bandages covered his face and made it impossible for the parents to notice particular features, such as the telltale chicken pox scar above their son’s nose.
The family camped out at the bedside all weekend. They met with doctors, gave consent for surgery and tried to provide comfort for the teenager they believed was their son.
“It was just time talking to him, whether it was just trying to hold his hand,” Parker’s mother said.
All the while, Labelle was not conscious or able to speak.
After two days, doctors told the parents that their son would be ready to breathe on his own. When he awoke, he didn’t recognize the couple.
“My first thought was he’s got a brain injury. And then Xavier just simply said his name and it was like, ‘Oh my, it’s not him.’ And that was it. Everything collapsed,” said Parker’s father, Ed Tobin.
For Parker’s mother, the moment was overwhelming.
“I fainted. Finding out at that point that he didn’t make it was just -- my heart broke,” she said.
Shortly after, their eldest son identified Parker’s body, confirming that he’d been killed.
Provincial authorities publicly acknowledged the mistake the following morning.
"I don't think enough can ever be said. All I can do is offer our sincerest apologies, our sincerest condolences and sympathies, in particular to the Tobin family on the news that they would have received,” said Drew Wilby, a spokesman for Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice, at the time.
The Labelle family had their own doubts after visiting the coroner, but those doubts were never communicated to the Tobin family.
“If that had been communicated to us, then those two days might have turned out to be a lot different,” Ed Tobin said.
The parents said they had their suspicions that something wasn’t quite right. But the two boys shared a striking resemblance, and it seemed like there was a medical explanation for the physical disparities.
“Everything where you thought, it doesn’t necessarily look like Parker’s hand, but then we’re told, there was so much swelling, his hands were swollen. Those things being explained, so there’s no reason to believe that it isn’t him,” Rhonda Clarke-Tobin said.
Regardless, Parker’s parents said they aren’t angry or bitter over what happened. They spent time grieving with the Labelle family and say he has a “special place” in their hearts.
“It was really important that we spent time with them and for them to know that we weren’t angry about anything, that we were just, we wanted them to feel reassured – don’t feel guilty,” Rhonda Clarke-Tobin said.
The parents decided to tell their story to share more about who their son really was and to move beyond the tragic mix-up.
“Every time one of the boys gets mentioned, regardless of the topic, that little tag along goes with them: one of the boys who was misidentified. We don’t want that to be Parker’s legacy,” Ed Tobin said.
Instead, they want people to know Parker for who he was.
“We just want people to know Parker the academic, Parker the athlete. I mean, he’s always going to be a part of the Broncos story, but he was more than that. He had plans to try to get an NCAA scholarship and go to school,” his mother said.
“Parker was a great kid. He really knew who he was and at 18, that always just impressed me so much. He was kind-hearted, he had lots of ambition.”
The past year has been difficult for the family. Parker’s bedroom remains almost untouched, and whenever the couple travels, they bring their son’s ashes with them.
To honour their son’s memory, the family plans to establish an annual scholarship for a goalie in post-secondary education and host a goalie camp.
A memorial is being held Saturday in Humboldt, Sask. to mark the one-year anniversary of the crash and remember those who lost their lives. CTV News Channel and CTVNews.ca will broadcast the event live at 6:30 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. MT.