A spokesman for Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice says authorities mixed up the identities of one of the deceased and one of the survivors in the Humboldt Broncos crash, partly because the hockey players all had blond dyed hair and similar builds.
Drew Wilby says the coroner’s office mistook the body of 18-year-old goalie Parker Tobin for that of Xavier Labelle. Labelle is injured but alive, and Tobin is among the 15 people who died when the bus carrying the junior hockey team collided with a semi truck in northeastern Saskatchewan on Friday.
Family members were told about the mix-up Sunday night and have been understanding under the circumstances, he said.
“That was a tough phone call,” Wilby said Monday in Regina.
“I don’t think enough can ever be said. All I can do is offer our sincerest apologies, our sincerest condolences and sympathies, in particular to the Tobin family on the news that they would have received yesterday.”
Wilby says dental records are the best way to identify deceased but those can take days to track down, especially given the hockey players were from all over Western Canada.
He says the coroner’s office was following a standard procedure to identify the victims but it was challenging.
“A lot of these boys looked alike,” Wilby said. “They had the blond hair that was supportive of their team for their playoff run. They’re very similar builds. They’re all very similar ages and they’re very athletic of course.”
He said the families had been involved in identifying the remains of the bus crash victims at a makeshift morgue. Wilby said he couldn’t say what condition the victims were in or what led to the discovery of the mix-up due to privacy legislation.
Wilby said officials are confident all the other victims have been properly identified.
“This is unprecedented in Saskatchewan’s history,” he said. ”Let’s all pray that something like this never happens again and we don’t need to learn these lessons for, say, the next time. Having said that, we always need to prepare for the worst and make sure that we do have the proper processes in place.”
The Humboldt Broncos were on their way to a playoff game Friday in Nipawin when the crash occurred. Fourteen people were injured in the collision.
Over the weekend, Tobin’s family had tweeted that their son was alive.
“This is one of the hardest posts I have ever had to make. Parker is stable at the moment and being airlifted to Saskatoon hospital,” Rhonda Clarke Tobin wrote.
Meanwhile, Labelle’s family had confirmed his death over the weekend, with his brother writing in an Instagram post that he was heartbroken.
News of the mistake comes a day after a solemn vigil was held at the team’s home arena, where thousands gathered to remember the deceased. A few candles still flickered Monday morning outside the Elgar Petersen Arena and a Broncos Strong sign sat on a bench near the entrance.
A ring of flowers still sat at centre ice but the seats were empty. Twenty-six pictures of the players and staff, those who died and those who survived, sat at the far end of the rink.
Nick Shumlanski, the first of the Broncos to be released from hospital, attended the vigil and sent out a statement Sunday night thanking people for their support.
“Although reality hasn’t really set in yet, it is truly devastating to have lost so many close friends, brothers and amazing coaches. Times are tough right now but the support you all have shown is so amazing,” he wrote.
He also said that he was lucky to be in the condition he was.
“The doctor told me it was truly a miracle that I was able to get up and walk away from the accident with very minor injuries and a couple of scars on my body,” he said.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press