Smoky Lake mayor thanks ‘heroes’ at scene of school bus crash

A school bus crash that injured eight people on a highway outside Smoky Lake has brought together an already tight-knit community, says the town’s mayor, who was among the first responders dispatched to the scene on Monday.

Hank Holowaychuk said the crash was particularly emotional for crews that went to the scene about five kilometres west of the town because in many cases they were neighbours helping neighbours.

“Everybody knows everybody,” Holowaychuk said. “Our first responders, they play hockey with some of the parents of these kids. They know the kids through work or whatever. It makes it a little more challenging when you go to these scenes.”

The mayor was quick to focus some of his attention on those who stopped to offer help in the crucial moments after the school bus loaded with children collided with a truck-mounted crane.

“The heroes on that highway were the people that stopped to render aid,” the mayor said. “Putting their own safety aside, because it’s a dangerous place. So we really want to thank them.”

‘Difficult time for the community’

The 984 residents in the town and many of the 2,700 people in the surrounding County of Smoky Lake have come together to offer help or prayers. A GoFundMe page has been started to help the families of those who were injured.

“It’s a difficult time for the community, for the region, for every parent that ever puts a kid on a bus to go to school,” Holowaychuk said Tuesday in an interview with CBC News. 

Eight people were taken to Edmonton hospitals after Monday’s crash, including five students who were listed in critical condition.

Fourteen students were on the bus when the accident happened at around 8:30 a.m. MT, police said. The bus was northbound on Range Road 180, while the other vehicle was westbound on Highway 28. 

One teenage girl was flown to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton in critical condition, according to STARS air ambulance.

STARS also flew a physician from Edmonton to help with triage at the Smoky Lake health-care centre, and brought two male students back to the Stollery — one adolescent and one child.

Five patients — four children and one adult — were taken by ground ambulance to Edmonton. Two were in critical condition, two were serious but stable and one was in stable condition, according to a statement released Monday by Alberta Health Services.

Bus headed to K-12 school

The students were on their way to H.A. Kostash School, a kindergarten to Grade 12 school in Smoky Lake, according to a spokesperson for Aspen View Public Schools.

Two people were in the mobile crane, according to Cpl. Ron Bumbry, an RCMP media relations officer. The driver suffered minor injuries and was taken to Redwater Health Centre, about 50 kilometres west of Smoky Lake, AHS said. 

The passenger did not suffer any “major injuries,” Bumbry said on Monday.

An investigation is underway, RCMP said. 

The intersection had stop signs on Range Road 180 where it met the highway, Bumbry said.

Smoky Lake is about 115 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

Some other notable Alberta collisions involving school buses:

  • May 23, 2019: Eleven students and the driver taken to hospital after a school bus crashed into a retaining wall on Whitemud Drive in Edmonton.
  • Jan. 28, 2019: A school bus carrying eight students rolled onto its side on 690th Avenue just east of Highway 2 near High River, Alta. A female student was taken to hospital in Calgary by STARS air ambulance. A male student was taken by ambulance to hospital in High River and a man was taken to Foothills hospital in Calgary.
  • March 7, 2018: A teenage girl died when a school bus was rear-ended by a gravel truck in heavy fog near Redwater.
  • Oct. 25, 2013: Three children were in critical condition after a collision between a school bus and a one-tonne truck north of Calgary.
  • Oct. 18, 2007: A school bus crashed into a parked gravel truck on a busy Calgary freeway, killing a nine-year-old girl.