A bus stop at Baseline station. Buses were back on schedule after the Jan. 11 crash at Westboro. Photo credit: Mike Athey

Algonquin grad Rebecca Atkinson is a frequent bus rider and on Friday, Jan. 11, she rode one to her physiotherapy appointments in Westboro.

She arrived at 3 p.m. After a short session, she exited into a cold Ottawa afternoon. Not wanting to wait outside, she stopped in at DavidsTea for a warm drink.

Armed for the weather, she returned to Richmond Road to wait for a bus that never came.

It wasn’t long afterwards that she saw emergency vehicles passing by her, and she knew that something had happened.

“I thought it was a house fire,” Atkinson said.

The reality came 15 or 20 minutes later when buses that normally would travel down the Transitway began to pass by her on Richmond Road. She boarded one and headed home.

A couple of hours later she saw the news.

An OC Transpo double-decker bus had crashed into the station at Westboro; many were injured, and some had been killed. The crash had happened around 3:50 p.m.

“It struck me when I did the timing,” Atkinson said. “If I didn’t stop for DavidsTea, I would have been there when it happened.”

It took a couple of days for it to register. She had never been nervous about taking OC Transpo, but now she was hesitant to go at the top of a double-decker.

“My life could have been taken if I’d been there,” Atkinson said. “I was only 300-500 meters away.”

Atkinson, a 2018 Algonquin journalism grad, also says a prayer for those affected whenever she passes by Westboro, “It’s also traumatizing for the people who had to see it as well.”

In response to the crash, flags were lowered to half-mast across all Algonquin campuses and President Cheryl Jensen released an email statement.

“Algonquin College is here to offer support to anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by the tragic bus crash at Westboro Station on Friday, Jan. 11,” read Jensen’s statement. “Our thoughts are with all those involved at this very difficult time.”

The Counselling Welcome Centre also was prepared to aid those who were in need.

“There is such a thing as being impacted even traumatized…by somebody else’s injury,” said Doug Stringer, manager of counselling services.

Stringer said it was okay to come to counselling and “that it’s okay they’re feeling impacted.”

The centre provides counselling and a walk-in that offers front line support pending availability. It also has an urgent care counsellor available for those that are in immediate distress.

“We all have this same basic level of trust between us,” said Dr. Chris Martin, a professor in the police foundations program. He says that there is a sociological effect that happens following events like those that happen at Westboro.

“Trust is now at risk of being diminished,” said Martin.

He said that organizations like Algonquin can be aware of that and take steps to correct it.

“That can come in the form of a counselling type scenario or just having someone to talk to,” said Martin. “We want to get people back to the sense of the normal functionality of life. A big part of the normal functionality of life is knowing that we can rely on things that just work.”

Atkinson has begun rebuilding her own trust and a few days ago boarded a bus though her “skin crawled a bit.”

She even sat at the top of a packed double-decker and tried to make light of it.

“I still won’t sit at the front,” she said.