B.C. highway bus crash second in four days; survivors call out company

By Charmaine de Silva and Greg Bowman

A Kelowna couple who survived a bus crash last week on Highway 97C is speaking out after learning the same company that operated the bus they were on was involved in the deadly Christmas Eve crash on the same route.

Speaking to CityNews, veteran Okanagan journalist Gord Vizzutti and his wife, Patricia Rockwell, say they booked tickets on Ebus from Kelowna to Vancouver on Dec. 20 so they could catch a flight to Arizona for vacation, after their original flight out of Kelowna had been cancelled.

Read More: Four people confirmed dead in Christmas Eve bus crash on Highway 97C

The bus was on the Okanagan Connector when it collided with a semi-truck, injuring Rockwell.

It was a snowy day with poor visibility on the highway and the couple say the driver was going too fast.

“I thought we were going to die,” Rockwell said. “I knew [the crash] was going to happen.”

The couple says about 10 minutes before the crash, the bus had narrowly missed a collision with a pickup truck.

“Patricia started texting her son in Vancouver who was waiting for us. She literally said ‘my God, I think this guy’s going to kill us if he doesn’t slow down’,” Vizzutti said.

Shortly after, the bus collided with the back of a semi-truck, shattering the windshield of the vehicle, and jolting the passengers in their seats.

“I felt all the glass like a cold wind and snow hitting me, but it was in my mouth and I realized it wasn’t melting and I realized it was glass,” Rockwell said, recalling the moments after the crash.

“So I kept asking for a drink and started spitting out all the glass.”

While Vizzutti was physically unharmed, Rockwell suffered a concussion, bruising on her chest and back, whiplash and cuts on her face. Her injuries prevented the couple from travelling to Arizona as intended.

Rockwell says she is recovering from her injuries but doesn’t know if she will fully recover.

Couple calls for accountability from bus company

The bus that Rockwell and Vizzutti were travelling on had been arranged by the company, Ebus. The same company operated the bus that crashed on the Okanagan Connector on Saturday.

When the couple learned of the connection, they began to wonder if the incidents could be related.

“At first I thought we just had a driver that was driving too fast, but when I heard about the accident this morning, I’m wondering if the company isn’t rushing them,” Rockwell said.

“It’s too coincidental. We think something here needs to be investigated,” added Vizzutti.

The couple says the bus they were in belonged to BlueStar Coachlines, but it was Ebus that did the ticketing and made the travel arrangements.

Speaking with CityNews on Sunday, the president of Ebus, John Stepovy says the bus in the Dec. 20 incident did not belong to the company but was contracted out to BlueStar Coachlines.

“In a busy holiday travel season, we work with partners to provide extra schedules for us,” he said.

“The highways were all open this week when we were travelling. We rely on the province to make those decisions.”

Stepovy says safety is the company’s “number one priority,” adding Ebus drivers are well-trained. He adds the bus Rockwell and Vizzutti were on was not being driven by an Ebus employee.

However, Vizzutti thinks Ebus should be held accountable.

“If a company hires a contractor to work on their behalf, they are in fact working for that company as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

“You have to think that some more care must be applied by some bus companies when conditions are as bad as they are in the wintertime.”

Vizzutti suggests buses should follow the lead of airports in extreme weather by cancelling routes for safety reasons.

“I don’t think the bus we were on should have been out that day,” he said. “I completely regret being on that bus.”

CityNews has reached out to Ebus regarding Vizzutti and Rockwell’s comments, but have yet to hear back.

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