Few Canadian towns can better understand what the people of Humboldt, Sask., are going through than Bathurst, N.B.
The East Coast town recently marked the 10th anniversary of a van crash that killed seven members of a high school basketball team and the wife of its coach.
“The first thing I thought was how tough it’s going to be for everybody there because we’ve kind of gone through the same thing,” said Jordan Frenette, captain of the Bathurst High School Phantoms, said of Friday’s Humboldt Broncos crash in which 15 people died and 14 were left with injuries.
Frenette, now 27, said he had been ill and was resting up for another game when his team’s crash happened.
“Not that I could have changed anything if I was there, but I really should’ve been there in a lot of ways,” he said in a phone interview.
“The seat that I always sat in, in our van, was the one that Wayne Lord’s wife was sitting in, who passed away in the accident.”
He said the community of Bathurst is still feeling tremors from the tragedy over a decade later.
The van’s driver had lost control on a slushy highway, and veered into an oncoming transport truck just after midnight on Jan. 12, 2008.
Separate reports on the tragedy by the RCMP and Transport Canada identified safety problems with the 15-seat-van, including worn all-season tires, broken brakes and a rusting body.
The RCMP report said the 1997 Ford Club Wagon would not have passed safety inspection at the time of the accident.
The deaths inspired a 2012 CBC TV movie – not on the tragedy, but on the events that followed: a year later, the reconstituted Bathurst High School Phantoms won the provincial title.
Starting this year, the City of Bathurst observed a day of mourning on the anniversary by flying flags at half mast.
A portable basketball net had been erected at the crash site in the hours following the accident. Ten years later, it remains, adorned with pictures of the victims – known as the Boys in Red, for their red jerseys.
It is a common sight to see people stopped by the side of the highway outside Bathurst to pay their respects.
“I think about this most days, whether I’m driving past that monument or not. It is something that impacted, not just me, but so many people. I think about the boys and Beth. I think about their families for whom I have tremendous empathy and respect,” John McLaughlin, the then-superintendent of the Bathurst school district, said in January in the lead-up to the anniversary.
Among the 15 killed in Friday’s Saskatchewan crash are Humboldt Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, captain Logan Schatz, forwards Jaxon Joseph and Logan Hunter, defenceman Stephen Wack and the team’s play-by-play radio announcer, Tyler Bieber.
The Saskatchewan deaths also brought up painful memories for Isabelle Hains, whose son Daniel died in the Bathurst Phantoms crash.
She’s since started Van Angels, an advocacy group that has successfully pushed for changes in the vehicles and rules used for student travel.
Hains issued a written statement on the Van Angels website Saturday expressing her condolences to those affected by the crash in Saskatchewan.
“I know how you are feeling and you are not alone,” she wrote. “There are people who love and care for you and want to help. Gather them around you for support.”
By Sunday, a crowdfunding effort on the website GoFundMe had raised several million dollars for the players and families affected by the crash.