Survivors and family members of victims of the Carberry, Man., bus crash are speaking out over a fundraiser launched a week after the accident that they say is misleading and morally wrong.
On June 15, 2023, 17 people lost their lives and eight others were injured when a bus carrying 25 people collided with a semi at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 5. The seniors had boarded the bus in Dauphin, Man., and were heading to the Sand Hills Casino near Carberry.
On June 22, the Dauphin and District Community Foundation launched a fundraiser in the wake of the crash.
“The Dauphin and District Community Foundation (DDCF) has established a new fund entitled ‘Support Our Seniors’ for those who wish to make a tax-deductible donation in honour of the victims from the motor vehicle accident on June 15, 2023, near Carberry, Manitoba,” a social media post from the organization on June 22 read.
“As obituaries are being posted, families are also conveying the wishes of their loved ones. People may choose to donate to those charities.”
The caption of the post said the Parkland region was still reeling from the incident and stated that the fund would provide funding for programming, equipment and activities that support seniors in the community.
Adrienne Zurba and Valerie Owen’s 87-year-old mother, Claudia Zurba, died in the crash. They say they were blinded by their trauma following the crash and didn’t know about the fundraiser until months later.
“When all of this is going on, you’re suffocating in trauma,” Zurba told Global News.
“Oh, it’s just very encompassing. It consumes your body entirely,” Owen added. “There’s probably other people out there who have had this happen in their lives, and they probably can identify it. It’s right to your core. So to even think about anything like this wouldn’t cross your mind.”
Zurba and Owen say neither of them had been approached or consulted with on the fundraiser and feel the fundraiser is misleading, as none of the funds raised go to the survivors or family members of the victims.
“I think it really hurts the heart, that they felt that they needed to do it as quickly as they did,” Owen said, adding that they would have liked to have been consulted on the fundraiser a few weeks or months after the crash.
“By that time, (they) knew who the spokespersons were for each family. In our case, it’s Adrienne. And she could have said something to us and said, ‘What do you guys think’? And still at this point, I think it’s morally wrong.”
Their sister Sharon Wiebe, who lives in Alberta, also says the wording on what the fundraiser was and who it was for was misleading to the public.
“It’s legal, it’s just not moral,” Wiebe said.
“It’s using that tragedy and the death of my mom and others…. They used that tragedy as bait, literally as bait. And they’re continually doing it to collect money for their own purpose.”
Zurba says she would have liked to see the money go toward supporting the families.
“They took our mom, our pain and suffering, to benefit their fund,” Zurba said.
“Dauphin took our tragedy and helped themselves. In what way? I don’t know. I’m still trying to work my way through all this … but I do know that there are victims still alive and I would have really liked to have seen them helped. Because if our mom was alive, I would hope that somebody would speak on our behalf as well.”
A similar sentiment is shared by Jacquie Bailey, whose mother, Vangie Gilchrist, also died in the crash.
“I find this very distasteful and hurtful that my mom was brutally killed and the Dauphin and District Community Foundation is benefitting from it and not offering help to any of the families,” Bailey said in a written statement to Global News.
She says MPI paid out $16,000 after her mother’s death.
“(It’s sad) that MPI considers $16,000 a reasonable payout for a death. A wrongful death,” Bailey wrote, adding that she has been dealing with unfathomable pain and stress levels.
“I have to take (the MPI money) so that I can fix my mom’s house and make it sellable. I’m on disability myself and the stress and pain I deal with daily is brutal.”
Chantel Uhrich’s uncle and aunt, Frank and Rose Perzylo, died in the crash. She says she was shocked to learn of the fundraiser in recent months.
“I was flabbergasted, actually. I was disgusted and then I got angry,” Uhrich told Global News.
She agrees that she would like to see support, but elsewhere.
“It’s almost like they were forgotten,” she said.
“But the people who have survived, they haven’t received monies to help them retrofit their houses, some people haven’t been able to use their arms or legs, some people are still using wheelchairs — that money should be going to them to retrofit their homes.”
Survivors speak out
Alex Seynk and Bob Bernat are survivors of the crash. The two longtime friends sat on the bus together heading from Dauphin to Carberry and spent months sharing a hospital room.
“They took the money and it seems like they forgot about us,” Bernat said.
Senyk says they also wish they had been consulted over the fund.
“The sad part – they donated the money or whatever – at least some of the survivors should have been notified where that money is going,” Senyk said.
“We would have gladly – probably 90 per cent of us would have said, ‘Do it.’”
The road to recovery has been a long one for both Senyk and Bernat, but they have made significant progress in recent months. Senyk started walking with the use of a walker and Bernat is regaining feeling in his arm after it sustained significant nerve damage.
Both Senyk and Bernat say they feel the funds would have been better suited to supporting covering funeral costs for victims, helping survivors with costs related to rehabilitation or medical expenses, or other things like retrofitting homes or vehicles to accommodate the needs of the survivors after the crash. They also say they would have liked to see more support for STARS or the volunteer firefighters from Carberry.
“That money was squandered,” Bernat said. “I’m sure most of the donors (thought) that money was supposed to go to the victims of the crash, be it living or dead.”
In an emailed statement to Global News and 680 CJOB, a spokesperson for the Dauphin and District Community Foundation said the fund has so far raised more than $80,000 that will “have an impact on our community forever.”
The statement said the fund was set up when the DDCF was approached by the City of Dauphin on how it might honour the victims. It said members of the public had also been inquiring.
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“Since all of our funds are endowed, we are limited in how we can handle donations that are received and since the whole community was affected by this accident, we felt that a fund that would support seniors’ activities in our community would be the most appropriate way to honour the victims,” the statement read. “We did not feel it would have been appropriate nor respectful to reach out to victims’ families at the time, and through discussions with the city and our board of directors, felt this was the most sensitive path.
“Both the foundation and representatives of the city have always encouraged the general public to reach out to families directly, and donate directly if they wish. We are not a (GoFundMe) operation, all of our funds are endowed and therefore cannot go directly to families.”
But Bernat says he doesn’t feel it is the most appropriate way to honour the victims.
“They’re not honouring the victims, they honoured themselves,” he said.
“Totally, totally, totally wrong.”