Humboldt Broncos players Xavier Labelle (left) and Parker Tobin (right) are shown in undated team photos. A coroner involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says it wasn’t until an injured player woke up in hospital and said he was a different person that officials realized there had been a big mistake in identifying the dead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Coroner speaks about mix-up of Humboldt Broncos crash victims, release of name

A coroner involved says it wasn’t until an injured player woke up in hospital and said he was a different person that officials realized the mistake

A coroner involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says it wasn’t until an injured player woke up in hospital and said he wasn’t who everyone thought he was that officials realized there had been a big mistake in identifying the dead.

Since the crash, Parker Tobin’s loved ones from Alberta had been at the bedside of the player they thought was Parker, an 18-year-old goalie. He had serious facial injuries, but they believed he was their boy.

It turned out it was actually teammate Xavier Labelle in the bed, a player already listed as among the many dead and being remembered at a public vigil that night.

“Xavier woke up and said, ‘I’m not Parker Tobin,’” Wayne Nogier, a community coroner in Melfort, Sask., recalled this week.

It was a mix-up that compounded an already unthinkable tragedy.

Related: Body in Humboldt Broncos bus crash misidentified: justice ministry

Nogier, a former paramedic who also sits on the board of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association and has worked as a referee, was the first of two coroners to arrive at the crash site north of Tisdale, Sask., on April 6. He is listed as the coroner on the case file.

The junior hockey team had been on its way to a Friday night playoff game when its bus and a truck collided at a rural intersection.

Fourteen bodies from the wreckage were taken to a Saskatoon funeral home that acted as the morgue over that weekend, said Nogier. Fifteen injured people were taken to hospital and two died in the days that followed.

Photos and information from the team, including the players’ heights and weights, were initially used by staff from the coroner’s office and funeral home to match the bodies with names, said Nogier.

It was a difficult task.

The players had all dyed their hair blond and were growing playoff beards. Most didn’t have their wallets on them.

An assistant coach helped identify the bodies before the families were brought in, said Nogier. All were able to confirm the matches, except in Labelle’s case.

“The family looked and they’re saying, ‘Oh geez. You know. Maybe. Probably. Umm, I don’t know. Nobody else is unaccounted for. Maybe.’”

Nogier said Labelle, an 18-year-old defenceman from Saskatoon, had previously worn braces, so a request was made for his dental records. His orthodontist was planning to head to his office that Sunday night to pull Labelle’s films.

But before he could send them to the coroner’s office, the player who was actually Labelle woke up.

By then, his name was listed among the dead on a news release that had been sent out Sunday afternoon from the coroner’s office and the RCMP. His name was also read aloud at the vigil in Humboldt.

Nogier said he doesn’t know who made the decision to release the name — only that he didn’t sign off on it.

When the mix-up was discovered, the Labelle and Tobin families switched places. Nogier said Tobin’s family was asked for an identification and was certain it was the 18-year-old goalie.

They were understanding about the mistake, he said.

“They’re devastated and beyond words as to what’s occurring, yet happy for the Labelle family that things have turned out in their case,” Nogier said.

“These teams are very close and these kids are all families to all of these parents.”

Labelle’s family released a photo earlier this month of him at physiotherapy and said they hold no ill will about the error.

Grant Bastedo, a representative of the Broncos and some of the players’ families, including the Labelles, said people did their best during an incredibly sad time.

“It was a mistake that was made. Don’t know who made it — it doesn’t matter. It’s water under the bridge,” he said.

Related: Dyed hair a factor in Humboldt bus crash victim mix-up

Related: Humboldt Broncos resolve trademark issue with junior hockey league

Drew Wilby, a spokesman with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice, which oversees the coroner’s office, apologized at the time the mistake was made public. He said the coroner’s office was doing an internal review of what happened to see if improvements could be made.

RCMP did not respond to a request for comment.

Saskatoon’s former police chief, Clive Weighill, had been tasked before the crash with reviewing the coroner’s system in Saskatchewan. He told The Canadian Press in an email that while he isn’t examining specific cases, Humboldt will be considered as part of his overall findings.

His review is to be done by July.

Nogier said he knew many of the Broncos and their families and hopes the misidentification will provide an opportunity to further examine the coroner’s system.

He said he doesn’t believe changes, such as switching to a medical examiner who relies on forensic pathologists, would have made a difference in the Broncos case.

And, despite the error, the families were well served by first responders, police and coroner’s staff, Nogier said.

People may wonder how such a mistake could happen, he said, but it’s easy considering there were numerous casualties and many hurdles.

“If there’s an opportunity to be better, we should jump all over that, ” Nogier said.

“If there isn’t, we should be comfortable in the fact that everything that was done did get done and was done appropriately.”

Related: ‘When everybody leaves: Counselling key to help Humboldt move on after bus crash

Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Historic look at Chilliwack activities we are missing in the pandemic

Images from the Chilliwack Museum & Archives show sporting events everyone hopes to get back to soon

VIDEO: Car goes off Highway 1 and into a ditch in Chilliwack

Eastbound vehicle left the highway ending in the ditch on south side of Luckakuck Way

Emergency crews respond to ATV rollover near Harrison

ATV rolled over on or near Harrison East Forest Service Road near Harrison Hot Springs

Guilty verdict for one of two men in large illegal marijuana grow-operation in Chilliwack

Charges dismissed against property owner where 3,200 plants, 32 kgs of dried weed found in 2017

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

QUIZ: A celebration of dogs

These are the dog days of summer. How much do you know about dogs?

Family and friends mark birthday of teen who died after being discovered in Langley park

Carson Crimeni suffered an apparent drug overdose, his final moments broadcast on social media

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Semi and BMW collide on South Surrey highway

At least one person to hospital, both vehicles sustained significant damage

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

Langley vigil demands justice for Ontario animal activist killed protesting slaughterhouse

More than two dozen people gathered at Britco Pork to remember Regan Russell, and fight Bill 156

Most Read