UVic counsellors met with students, families over weekend
Two UVic students were killed, and three more were seriously injured when a bus went down an embankment over the weekend between Bamfield and Port Alberni.
45 students and two teaching assistants were onboard the bus heading towards the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Sep 13 for a two-day field trip. 17 people were taken to hospital, and 30 others were transported back to Victoria on another bus.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of two UVic students last night. Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the students’ families and loved ones, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences. The university is offering counselling and other supports,” the university said on Twitter shortly after the accident.
On Sep. 16, acting dean of the Faculty of Science Robin Hicks made public the identities of the two students who died in the crash. Although the families consented for the release of this information, they requested for their privacy to be respected.
“It is with a heavy heart that I share that the young people who died were first-year biology students John Geerdes, 18, from Iowa City, Iowa, and Emma Machado, also 18, from Winnipeg, Manitoba,” said Hicks.
“Although they had just begun their academic studies at UVic, both of these students demonstrated a love of marine biology and a passion for the natural world.”
The students were travelling on a charter bus owned by Wilson’s Transportation, and Owner John Wilson said the driver—who experienced non-life threatening injuries—was experienced and had driver training certification.
Wilson also said the bus recently passed a safety inspection, and couldn’t confirm what caused the accident but would work with authorities to determine a cause to the crash.
The bus crashed on a gravel road near the Carmanah Main Junction. Wes Patterson, deputy fire Chief of the Port Alberni Fire Department, told the CBC that students were still trapped when the fire department arrived.
There is no cell service on the road primarily used for Bamfield residents, and it had been raining on and off all day. The dark, cloudy, and rainy conditions also impacted visibility.
The narrow gravel road had been subject to safety complaints from locals for years.
Robert Dennis, chief councillor of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations in Bamfield, said to the CBC that he’s been advocating the provincial government for years to improve the logging road.
“I’ve been chief councillor for 21 years, and I have been knocking on every Liberal government, every NDP government, to get our road fixed,” he said.
UVic opened counselling services on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University Centre following crash, with President Jamie Cassels meeting with students and their families.
“Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the students’ families and loved ones, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences,” said Cassels in a statement.
“We also grieve with those closest to these members of our campus community, including roommates, friends, classmates and professors who were in contact with them during their time on campus.”
In an email sent out to all students on the morning of Sep. 16, Cassels spoke to the ongoing support and counselling efforts at UVic.
“The loss of members of our campus community in any circumstances is distressing. These bright young people were united in their desire to experience the research and learning possibilities on Vancouver Island’s west coast,” said the email from Cassels.
“University staff from several departments worked long hours throughout the weekend to meet with the students and their families and to provide for their immediate and ongoing needs.”
In his statement, Cassels said that MultiFaith Services is providing a space open to everyone for quiet reflection today and throughout the week.
Shortly after, UVSS released a statement regarding the accident.
“The UVSS is deeply saddened by the bus accident,” reads the statement on social media. “We are currently working with the university to implement increased mental health services as soon as possible.”
UVic, in conjunction with the UVSS, will hold a community gathering for students and faculty to grieve on Sep. 17 in BiblioCafé. Representatives from UVic and the UVSS will give remarks at the vigil, and UVic support staff will be present to assist any community members dealing with the tragic event.
Students can reach Counselling Services in the University Centre if they are in need of support. The Peer Support Centre, a volunteer-run mental health group in the SUB, will reopen on Sep 30 for students on campus to talk through any problems they may be going through.
“The entire university is coming together to help at this difficult time,” UVic wrote in a press release. “Faculty members, instructors and staff are aware of this traumatic incident and the university will make allowances and provide additional support for students to help them in their studies.”