Friends and family have identified one of the four victims of a fatal Christmas Eve bus crash east of Merritt, B.C., as 41-year-old Karanjot Singh Sodhi.
Kalwinder Singh said he was looking forward to celebrating the holidays with his cousin, but now he’s mourning the loss of Sodhi, whom he describes as kind and hard-working.
“I’m very hurt for the last two days,” Singh, a truck driver, said.
Sodhi, who was from Punjab, India, came to Canada more than three months ago after spending time in Australia.
He leaves behind a wife and two children — a six-year-old son and two-year-old daughter — in his home city of Amritsar.
The cousins were on a video call that Singh believes ended about 30 minutes before the crash. They laughed and joked, discussing Sodhi’s upcoming visit to Surrey, B.C., and the party they were to have.
At about 10 p.m., when Sodhi didn’t reach Surrey, Singh said his wife began to worry. Sodhi wasn’t answering his phone either. That’s when Singh began calling the police.
About an hour later, the family got word of a bus crash on their cousin’s route and that some people had died. Singh said he began calling hospitals in the area to check if Sodhi was among the dead.
On Christmas Day, he said, the police called him to say his cousin was one of the victims.
“[Sodhi’s] wife is in a very bad shape after hearing the news. His mother, too,” Singh said.
‘He always had a cheerful smile’
The bus, travelling from Kelowna to Vancouver, went off the road on Saturday and rolled onto the passenger side of Highway 97C, which is also called the Okanagan Connector, near the Loon Lake exit. The exit is 330 kilometres east of Vancouver in the Southern Interior.
Dozens of people who were passengers on the bus were taken to hospital.
Haward Collince Michael Samy, who worked with Sodhi at a winery in Oliver, B.C., located about 100 kilometres south of Kelowna, describes him as the kind of person who lit up every room he entered.
Another co-worker, Anshul Thakur, said Sodhi was an upbeat person who “almost never had a bad day.”
“A lot of us go through a lot of stuff, but all the struggles he’s been through, he never let that get in the way…. He always had a cheerful smile.”
Police suspect icy roads were the cause of the crash. Officials have not released the names of those who died.
The RCMP said on Tuesday it’s now believed that 46 people — 45 passengers and a driver — were on the bus, which was operated by the Alberta-based company Ebus. Earlier reports put the number in the 50s.
The Interior Health Authority said six people remain in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The RCMP said on Tuesday that the bus remains in their custody pending their investigation.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said investigations are ongoing. Crews were out in full force to clear highways on Christmas Eve, he said.
“Maintenance contractors were out all day on Saturday with seven pieces of equipment along the connector, plowing, sanding and salting the highway,” he said. “The winter conditions on Highway 97C on Saturday were not unusual for late December.”