Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Six months after an unthinkable tragedy, survivors and family members of victims of the Highway 1 bus crash near Carberry are uniting in grief and healing.

On June 15, a bus carrying 25 people, many of them seniors from the Dauphin area, collided with a semi on the Trans-Canada Highway near Carberry, Man. The bus was taking the seniors from Dauphin to the Sandhills Casino for the day.

Seventeen people were killed in the crash, and the lives of numerous families were changed forever.

But on Thursday, a day before the six-month anniversary, survivors and family members of victims came together to share their grief and work towards healing.

Bob Bernat, 72, and Alex Senyk, 74, are survivors of the crash. The two have been friends for about three decades, often going fishing and snowmobiling together. They also boarded the bus together and spent approximately two months sharing hospital rooms together in Brandon and Winnipeg.

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“We were together, which was a good thing, because we sat together in the bus, we got injured together in the bus,” Bernat told Global News.

“We’re lucky to be together, that’s why I wanted both of us together here too, because we could relate to so much stuff.”

Bob Bernat and Alex Senyk are survivors of the bus crash. They’ve been friends for about 30 years.

Jordan Pearn / Global News

The pair say they remember little from that fateful day.

“I wish I could remember. In a sense, I don’t remember anything. I remember getting on the bus … then waking up in the hospital,” Senyk said.

“I remember being in a hospital. My daughter told me it was Brandon emergency centre,” Bernat said.

“I remember worms on the walls, I guess I was so sedated…. I remember something about them sticking a tube in my throat. I remember bits and pieces, again. As my daughter and my girlfriend told me, I was in Winnipeg, they were stapling my head. Putting staples in, but I don’t remember the actual cuts on my forehead.

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“I know one thing: I can’t watch movies with any kind of death in it, I’ll automatically cry.”

For Bernat’s family, receiving news he had survived the crash came with relief amid the sadness.

“My brother, Gavin, was in the car, he didn’t want to come in, he just wanted to stay there until I brought him the news,” Bernat’s daughter, Tammy Koshowski, said.

“And I feel bad for this to this day, but I was so excited and happy he was alive, I ran across the parking lot and I was going, ‘He’s alive! he’s alive!’ And as I did that, and I looked over, and there was all the families, and they were crying waiting for an answer.”

Bernat and Senyk both wanted to meet family members of the victims of the Carberry bus crash.

Jordan Pearn / Global News

Bernat and Senyk didn’t find out what had happened until waking up in hospital. And they received devastating news. Their friend Frank Perzylo, and his wife Rose, had died in the crash.

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“I lost a good one,” Bernat said.

“He was very like a strong friend, hey. Like, a good friend. In fact, he was so personable sometimes, we started calling him dad.”

Both Bernat and Senyk have a long road ahead to recovery. Senyk just started walking with a walker about a month ago, and still uses his wheelchair while at home. He says he struggles with pain 24-7.

Bernat sustained serious injuries to his face and his lungs collapsed in the crash. Nerve damage is also preventing him from using his right arm.

But both are determined to get better. This fall, Bernat, a farmer, climbed in the combine for harvest with some help. He also plans to be there for spring seeding.

“They’re going to have to carry me off that farm. As long as I’m capable — and I was capable, that’s what really upsets me. For my age, I was in pretty good shape. Now I’m useless. That’s what bothers me. I want to make sure I’m there for my son,” Bernat said, while holding back tears.

“That’s what hurts the most, ’cause I put them through stress, to see me like that. I can’t even imagine what went through their heads.”

They want to ensure the memories and stories of everyone on that bus aren’t forgotten, and they also hope to meet the first responders one day to thank them personally.

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“As soon as I’m able to walk I want to go to Carberry,” Senyk said.

“I would think they saved our lives.”

Uniting with family members of victims

On Thursday, Bernat and Senyk met several family members of victims of the crash.

Adrienne Zurba lost her mother, Claudia Zurba, in the crash. Zurba says at 87 years old, her mom loved gardening, was a member of the church choir and still lived on her own on a farm outside of Dauphin.

Zurba says that day her mother drove into town to get on the bus at the seniors centre.

“I didn’t get to talk to her that morning. I usually talk to her every morning, every night,” Zurba told Global News.

“She left early that morning and when I called there was no answer at the farm. So I knew she was on the road. She went early. Didn’t want to miss the bus. I didn’t find out until my sister called me that afternoon.”

Adrienne Zurba lost her mother in the Carberry bus crash. Claudia Zurba was 87 years old.

Jordan Pearn / Global News

After learning there had been a bus crash, Zurba says she called the number on a poster for the bus service that she had taken a picture of.

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“So I called the bus driver’s phone and there was no answer,” she said. That’s when she called the second number on the poster.

“I said, ‘Has there been an accident?’ and she’s like, ‘Yes, I’m so sorry.’ I said, ‘Oh my god, I said, ‘My mom…’ They said, ‘She’s here … we just can’t identify her, Adrienne…. I’m sorry.’”

Two days later, Zurba says their worst nightmare was confirmed when RCMP showed up at their door.

Claudia Zurba was an active member of her community at 87 years old.

Courtesy / Adrienne Zurba

Claudia Zurba also loved to garden.

Courtesy / Adrienne Zurba

While the pain is still raw, Zurba says she wanted to come to Dauphin on Thursday to meet the survivors and family members as it’s an important part of her healing journey and processing the grief.

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“I wanted to come here today. I needed to connect with the people that are going through what I’m going through and what our families have been going through,” Zurba said.

“My mom was a strong lady and she was vibrant and I wanted to know her day, I wanted to know who she was with…. Being with the people that experienced what we have lost and what they have lost helps me know that I’m not alone.”

Jacquie Bailey and Teresa Rausch also came to the gathering on Thursday. Their mothers, Catherine Day and Vangie Gilchrist, had been friends for decades after meeting at a Dauphin Kings game about 50 years ago.

“They’d go to the movies together, shop together,” Rausch said.

“Halloween, they loved Halloween,” Bailey added.

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Jacquie Bailey and Teresa Rausch’s mothers were friends for about 50 years. They died in the Carberry bus crash.

Jordan Pearn / Global News

“The families always got together and travelled, they went to Nashville together,” Rausch said.

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“They did everything together.”

Bailey says her mother, Vangie Gilchrist, died at the scene of the crash. She was 83 years old and an active community member, often volunteering her time with community initiatives like Meals on Wheels.

Rausch’s mother, Catherine, was taken to hospital in Brandon and then flown to Winnipeg. Rausch says the only way they could identify her was by her tattoo.

“They took us to this bed and my brother and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s not mom.’ Like, she looked like a football player sitting there, and she was all bruised,” said Rausch, who also said her mom had sustained injuries to her knee, neck, face and ribs.

“So, we went to hold her hand and we looked at her hand and we said, ‘That’s not her,’ and we had to get the nurse to show us her tattoo to see if it was her.”

Day died in July, making her the 17th victim of the crash. Rausch says they’re grateful for the extra time they had with her. Her mom was responsive and would nod to things they said and even was able to whisper to them. Her mom even got to meet and hold her new great-grandson, who was born on July 10, less than a week before she died.

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Teresa Rausch and her mother, Catherine Day. Day was the 17th victim of the Carberry bus crash.

Courtesy / Teresa Rausch

“(They) laid him on my mom’s chest, mom sobbed, I wasn’t in the room at that time – thank God – but the nurse said, ‘Your mom is sobbing,’” Rausch said.

“She was in rough shape but we were blessed to have her those extra days and talk to her and be with her.”

Margaret Furkalo, 83, was the 16th victim of the crash. She died in hospital days after the incident.

“Really bubbly personality, four-foot-11, had a lot of energy,” her son, Patrick Furkalo, told Global News of his mother.

Margaret Furkalo.

Courtesy / Patrick Furkalo

Furkalo says he’s grateful his family got a chance to say goodbye.

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“My youngest sister had a chance to talk to her that night, which was really good,” he said.

“And just telling you what type of person she was, she had all kinds of things she could talk about but she says, ‘How’s my friend Helen?’” Furkalo said while fighting back tears.

“At least we … unfortunately, some of them didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. We had that opportunity.”

Jordan Pearn / Global News

He also says it’s difficult having his mother miss out on life events. She missed his daughter’s high school graduation by a few days.

“One of the hardest things was that you’re cleaning up here your parents’ place and you see a half-written graduation card.”

This holiday season will also mark the first time the families are spending the holidays with one less seat at the table.

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“Christmas is going to be tough…. I can’t even bring myself to decorate,” Bailey said.

Vangie Gilchrist.

Courtesy / Jackie Bailey

“My grandson … (is) going to make grandma’s buns…. We found a package of buns in the freezer and we took them home. Simple things like that. They’re hard, just not being able to hug my mom and talk to my mom every day.”

Many of the family members say they feel being able to meet and share their mutual trauma and grief was a key part of the healing process.

“You never seem to realize how deep everything goes, and how much these families have to deal with on a daily basis just trying to get over it,” Bailey said.

“And now I think it puts it more into perspective.”

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