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Manitoba Community Prepares to Say Goodbye to 15 Seniors Killed in Bus Crash

June 20, 2023 4:21 PM | The Canadian Press

By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Joe Coffey

Joe Coffey stands outside Sneath-Strilchuk Funeral Services in Dauphin, Man., on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kelly Geraldine Malone)

Joe Coffey is preparing for something that doesn’t normally happen in his small community.

He owns Sneath-Strilchuk Funeral Services, one of two funeral homes in Dauphin, Man., a city of 8,600 that is preparing to say goodbye to 15 seniors killed last week in a fiery bus crash.

“This isn’t something that happens to funeral directors very often,” Coffey said Tuesday.

The minibus was carrying the group of seniors from Dauphin and the surrounding area to a casino Thursday, when it went into the path of a semi-trailer truck on the Trans-Canada Highway near the town of Carberry, some 190 kilometres to the south.

Health officials have said 10 others on the bus, including the driver, remained in hospital. Five were in critical condition.

Staff at the funeral home knew everyone who was on the bus, Coffey said. They saw them at church and at funerals. Some are related to the victims.

“It’s an intimate connection,” Coffey said.

When word of the crash spread, he said, his staff stepped up to offer their time. Two cancelled their vacation plans.

Funeral directors from across the province and the country also reached out to offer help, he said.

While Coffey isn’t worried about capacity at the funeral home, he said it will be important to work over the coming days and weeks to make sure the funerals don’t overlap.

Many people in the community will want to go to multiple funerals, he said.

The real challenge will come with the waves of grief.

“It’s the emotional connection to the people and the tragedy itself, the event, which plays on the staff, the community and the families that we are dealing with,” Coffey said.

RCMP said they plan to release the names of those who died at a press conference Thursday in Dauphin. Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and first responders who were at the crash are scheduled to attend.

Mayor David Bosiak said a memorial service for residents would be held Thursday night at a community hall.

Families of the victims wanted the event, he said.

The mayor spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday over the phone. A readout of the conversation said they discussed the tight-knit nature of Prairie town communities and how they have come together in times of loss.

“The prime minister also shared wishes of strength and perseverance to those still recovering in the hospital,” the readout said.

“The prime minister thanked the mayor for his steadfast leadership and compassion during this incredibly difficult time.”

Ernie Sirski, reeve for the Rural Municipality of Dauphin, said the trauma is ongoing and a lot of people are still trying to digest what happened.

“We are pulling together as a community and that’s the important part,” Sirski said.

“If there’s a glory to this, it’s that the community is pulling together and making sure if anybody needs any help … we are there for them.”

Coffey said Dauphin is an amazing and vibrant place — a wonderful community to live where people take care of each other.

The deaths have cast a dark shadow, but Coffey said having funerals, a time and place to mourn, will help the city heal.

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