UPDATE: Coroner blames brake failure in city bus for woman's death

December 10, 2013 - 12:22pm Updated: December 10, 2013 - 8:04pm
City bus in downtown Regina on Dec. 6, 2011. Karin Yeske/News Talk Radio
City bus in downtown Regina on Dec. 6, 2011. Karin Yeske/News Talk Radio

The City of Regina insists there were no brake issues on a bus that contributed to a local woman's death in February, regardless of what is being revealed in a new report from the Coroner's office.

Barbara Supynuk would have turned 51 on Monday; she died a few weeks after a February incident in which she was struck in the head by a sign, which had been affixed to a post that was knocked down after being hit by a city bus. The report cites "severe traumatic brain injury" as the cause of her death, which has been deemed accidental.

The report outlines what crash scene analysts determined took place (you can read the entire document below). There was ice at the intersection of Hamilton St. and 11th Ave. where the bus was traveling when the driver attempted to brake and pull over into a bus stop. The report says the bus didn't slow down and began skidding to the right; because the brakes locked the driver couldn't steer properly, it continues. The skid marks indicated there was an issue with the rear left brake.

"It indicated the rear left brake was not operational, which would have caused the bus to veer to the right and leave the roadway," it concludes. Further testing was done after the bus was towed away from the scene; a private-sector vehicle inspector found "consistent left rear brake failure" and further testing by SGI also saw the left rear brake fail. SGI also later found that all four brake drums were "worn beyond the maximum permissible limit, which could impact the overall braking ability."

Stinnen notes that the bus had a history of brake failure, with five complaints made by drivers pertaining to that one wheel in particular in the month and a half before the incident. The report says inspections and maintenance were done each time, the last being just over a week before Supynuk was injured; "However," it reads, "no details of the repairs completed on the bus were provided by the City in their reports."

The bizarre accident resulted in a charge against the city for failing to properly maintain the brakes on the vehicle that was involved. Brent Sjoberg, the city's deputy manager, insisted in early September that the brakes were still working but the fine assessed by police was paid anyway. He stuck with that story on Tuesday when questioned by reporters.

"The conclusions in the coroner's report didn't speak to the brakes—was, the fact was, it was accidental," he insisted, suggesting that there were likely several factors that played a part.

"The conclusion doesn't speak to the failure of the brakes. There certainly was evidence that they may have reviewed. As well, as I mentioned, we've got some questions that we will continue to work with them on."

Sjoberg dodged any suggestion that the brakes may have failed, even under direct questioning.

"Do you deny that the brakes failed?" he was asked at one point.

"As I said, the report speaks to evidence that was considered but the conclusion was the incident was accidental," Sjoberg asserted.

Later he was asked if he had received legal advice that prevented him from acknowleding the possibility that one of the brakes didn't work properly.

"There's nothing from that perspective—all it was was simply reading the conclusions in the report and the conclusion...is that the death is accidental."

Sjoberg continued insisting that testing done by the city after the accident found that all of the brakes on the bus were working properly. The coroner's report notes that SGI found the same, but only after the braking system had been corrected as part of the initial inspection.

Stinnen is recommending an independent review of how the city inspects and maintains buses as well as how drivers are trained. She notes that this incident happened with an older bus, which meant it did not have the anti-lock brake systems that come standard on newer transit vehicles; because the driver continuously held down the brake pedal the brakes locked and he was unable to try and change course.

"In non-ABS-equipped vehicles in order to maintain or restore steering it is important for the driver to take corrective action by releasing the brake or pumping the brake," Stinnen's report notes.

Sjoberg stressed that the city regrets that harm was done. He said since February more frequent maintenance inspections are being done. He says the city will cooperate with the system audits recommended by the coroner.

Stinnen also suggests the province should regulate transit buses that carry more than 10 people at a time. She feels transit buses should be regulated as part of The Traffic Safety Act so that provincial standards around "the use, condition, and safety maintenance of transit buses" can be created and enforced. The provincial government confirms that SGI has accepted that recommendation and will be taking the necessary action.