Counsellors, therapy dog help students cope after deadly crash in western Manitoba

Crisis team counsellors and support staff are at several western Manitoba schools to help students and staff cope with a fatal crash last week that claimed the lives of four young people during spring break.

Students returned to classes Monday for the first time since the crash just before 11 p.m. on March 29, which also sent a fifth person to hospital in critical condition.

“We’re just wanting to create the environment where everyone can feel safe and and be able to talk,” said Mountain View School Division superintendent Stephen Jaddock. “It’s a tragic situation and and we all want to get through it together.”

The five teens were in a car that went through a stop sign and collided with a semi-trailer at the intersection of Provincial Road 274 and Highway 5 in Gilbert Plains, 30 kilometres west of Dauphin, in western Manitoba.

Flowers are strapped to a roadside post, with more flowers at the base of the post, with a white grain elevator in the backdrop that has Gilbert Plains on it.
A makeshift memorial is set up near the site of a crash in Gilbert Plains that killed four teens and injured a fifth. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Chris Swintak and Alexandra Watt, both 18, and two 17-year-olds, all from Dauphin, were killed. Watt had just moved to the area from Carberry, Man.

Hanna Yurkiw, 15, from Dauphin, was the lone survivor from the car and is being treated at the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg.

The 30-year-old driver of the semi, from Saskatoon, wasn’t hurt.

Jaddock said Monday was a quiet, sombre day, but students are starting to open up and talk and try to process what happened.

In addition to counsellors at Gilbert Plains Collegiate, a therapy dog has been made available. The two 17-year-old boys were students at that school.

Yurkiw and Swintak were students at Dauphin Regional.

Swintak was in Grade 12 and set to graduate in June.

Jaddock said the division identified a total of five schools for support “just based on connections with the individuals that were involved.”

Counsellors will be on hand at the schools for the rest of the week at least, Jaddock said.

“As our critical incident response team liaises with the principals of the schools to see what is needed, we will continue to support them as necessary,” he said.

“Maybe some students that didn’t feel comfortable talking today are going to talk tomorrow or the next day.”

Neighbouring school divisions have offered support personnel and some of them are in Mountain View Division schools this week, Jaddock said.

Flags across the division have been lowered to half-mast for the week in honour of those who were in the crash.

“We’re all just still in a state of shock,” Jaddock said. “[It’s] just unimaginable, just a tragedy of tragedies when you have young lives lost.”