Two hockey bus crash victims misidentified; one survived, the other did not
The coroner misidentified two of the Humboldt Broncos hockey players involved in a fatal bus crash, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Xavier Labelle, who was originally listed among the deceased, is actually alive, while Parker Tobin, who had been listed among the survivors, died as a result of the Friday collision, the RCMP said in a Monday news release.
“The Office of the Chief Coroner apologizes for the misidentification and any confusion created by it,” the news release said. “The Coroner’s Office extends its deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who lost their lives as well as those who were involved in the collision.”
At a news conference, a spokesman for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice said the young men involved in the crash were similar ages and builds, and the teammates had dyed their hair blond in solidarity for the Broncos’ playoff run.
“A lot of these boys looked alike,” Drew Wilby said.
Dental records are the best way to ensure an identification is accurate, and it takes time to procure those records, especially considering some of the players hail from British Columbia, a province hundreds of miles to the west, the spokesman said.
“New information came to light last night that raised questions with the health care professionals,” Wilby said, adding that the information was not related to dental records.
Health care professionals were then able to correctly identify Labelle, and the Labelle and Tobin families were notified Sunday night, he said.
The Labelle and Tobin families were involved in the initial identification processes, Wilby said, without elaborating.
The two families released a joint statement Monday night saying they “are grieving together. They hope the focus will remain on those grieving and those recovering, not the confusion in an unimaginable tragedy.”
Citing Canadian privacy laws, Wilby declined to provide details of Labelle’s injuries other than to say he is “an active patient in the system.”
After being informed that Labelle had died, brother Isaac Labelle told CNN he was at the gym when he got a text about the bus wreck. He called his father, an emergency room doctor, who had been en route to the game but had changed course to the crash site.
Once there, Isaac Labelle said, his father told him that there didn’t appear to be any survivors. Isaac Labelle went on to say his brother was “well-loved by everybody.”
Later, when he learned his brother had survived, Isaac Labelle wrote a comment on his own Instagram page saying, “What we went through the last 2 days have been hell.”
Tobin is among the 15 killed in the crash in Canada’s Saskatchewan province. The death toll includes nine other Broncos players, two coaches, two employees of a broadcasting company and the bus driver.
The crash occurred around 5 p.m. Friday north of Tisdale, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as the team was headed for the town of Nipawin for a playoff game. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said the tractor-trailer, traveling west on Highway 335, collided with the bus, which was traveling north on Highway 35.
The cause of the crash is not known, and “the scope and complexity of this investigation means it will take some time to determine the cause of the collision and the circumstances surrounding it,” said Zablocki.
The tragedy was felt across Canada, where hockey is the dominant sport and many young players take long bus rides to tournaments.
Humboldt, a town of about 6,000, has a tradition of fielding teams in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. The players, ranging in age from 16 to 21, come from different parts of Canada and stay with host families during the season, according to the team’s website.
“Our Broncos family is in shock as we try to come to grips with our incredible loss,” Kevin Garinger, the team’s president, said in a statement.
The hockey community and others rallied around the victims and their families, offering financial assistance.
By Monday evening, a GoFundMe page for the players and their families had raised more than $6.4 million, the result of more than 84,000 donations.