AIRDRIE, Alta. – Michelle Straschnitzki had a moment of panic when her 16-year-old son, Jett, was preparing to board a team bus for a recent hockey game.
“I didn’t watch him go get on the bus, but the part that choked me up was when I gave him a hug and said, ‘Good luck. Have a great game.’ Then I had a moment of panic,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. “My heart stopped. He was actually leaving and going on the bus.”
It was just six months since her older son was seriously injured in a deadly crash involving the Humboldt Broncos. Ryan Straschnitzki, 19, was paralyzed from the chest down in the collision between his Saskatchewan junior hockey team’s bus and a semi-trailer in April at a highway crossing in rural Saskatchewan. Sixteen people died and 13 others were injured.
Straschnitzki and her husband have added their voices to those of other Broncos parents who want buses equipped with seat and shoulder belts.
Tom Straschnitzki contacted the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association when he discovered buses carrying players, including his younger son, didn’t have seatbelts because it isn’t yet mandatory. He said the association immediately made changes to ensure buses with seatbelts are used.
He said watching another child head off to a hockey game was harder on him and his wife than it was on their son, who did not want to be taken by his parents.
“Jett goes, ‘Well, the accident was six months ago, Dad,”’ said Straschnitzki. “As soon as he got on there, he took a picture of his seatbelt and sent it to us. He said he wasn’t taking it off until the bus stopped.”
Ryan Straschnitzki has continued his rehabilitation. After a two-hour workout, he said having his younger brother board a team bus for hockey brought back memories of the crash.
“I think it should be enforced that you wear your seatbelts,” he said. “If a bus doesn’t have one, then I’m not sure it should be on the road.”
The injured player said he isn’t sure seatbelts on the Humboldt bus would have made a difference, but it’s worth having them.
“If there’s a one-in-a-million chance of this ever happening, just to be safe, I’d wear it,” he said. “If a tragedy like this doesn’t sink in, then we’re not doing anything good.”
Transport Canada announced in June that the department will require all newly built highway buses to have seatbelts by September 2020. Some charter bus companies say many new vehicles already have seatbelts, although there is no way to ensure passengers are wearing them.
Russell Herold’s son, Adam, was the youngest Humboldt player killed in the crash, less than a week before his 17th birthday. He told CBC earlier this year he never considered wearing a seatbelt on a team bus until the day he lost his son.
“You can still have fun, you can still be a group, you can still have that atmosphere, but you can have a seatbelt on,” he said.