Two Beach parents are launching a $2-million lawsuit against the TTC and Toronto Police Service for negligence they say contributed to the death of their son in 2010.
Bill Gillespie and Kathryn Wright filed the suit on May 22, alleging the bus that hit 17-year-old Alex Gillespie on Lake Shore Blvd. E. was speeding in an improper lane
They also charged police didn’t do enough to safely break up the Woodbine Beach party he was at and investigated the death inadequately.
“We believe that those so-called ‘mistakes’ are so egregious that this is simply negligence,” Gillespie said in an interview. “This was foreseeable.”
The TTC would not comment on the case as it is before the courts. Toronto Police Service did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
Gillespie and Wright, a journalist and lawyer respectively, have spent the past 18 months trying to find answers for what happened that night. They have interviewed eyewitnesses and people who were in the area in the time. They also received documents from the TTC and police through freedom of information requests.
According to Gillespie, the bus’s GPS revealed the bus had been travelling 57.6 km/h in a 50 km/h zone at the time of collision.
During the official accident investigation, police had said they were not able to determine the bus speed, Gillespie said. However, the investigation did determine Alex was jaywalking and the bus had a green light.
“I can’t make sense of that,” Wright said. “Either they didn’t look at the GPS, in which case you say why not, or they didn’t know about it or didn’t find it relevant…. All of those are huge question marks for us.”
There is also evidence the accident occurred while the bus was in the passing lane, contrary to TTC policy, which requires buses to stay close to curbside whenever possible.
According to Gillespie, bus drivers on that route pressed the overtaxed button, which requests additional buses when regular service is strained, more than once.
“It turns out, as we found out from the freedom of information documents, is that there had been staff reductions at TTC central, and nobody left there knew how to work the system,” Gillespie said. “So they never responded.”
In addition to failing to review the bus GPS, failing to review the bus camera, and not interviewing a witness who allegedly called Toronto Police Service several times warning of unsafe conditions, the parents allege Toronto Police Service was negligent because they did not have a safety plan for dispersing the youth.
Police had heard about the event the day prior on Facebook, and dispatched 38 officers on horseback, bicycles and all-terrain vehicles to break up the party at around 10 p.m. The Facebook event anticipated about 3,800 attendees.
Gillespie alleges that there was no safe exit strategy in place.
“If you’re dispersing (approximately) 3,800 kids, it’s unreasonable to expect them to all wait at one or two crosswalks,” he said. “At no time until after the accident were there any traffic police, or any police at all, to get the kids across that road safely.”
Gillespie also believes the police should have broken up the party earlier than 10 p.m. and notified the TTC they were planning on intervening.
He’s not sure if Toronto Police include an exit strategy as part of the dispersal procedures.
“We don’t know,” he said. “But it certainly appears from this example, that there’s something seriously wrong.”
The parents launched the lawsuit to not only satisfy their own unanswered questions, but also to expose the public to what they perceive to be serious negligence from public agencies.
“This is certainly about justice for Alex, but it also goes well beyond it,” Gillespie said. “We feel that there are systemic problems in those two organizations (that put) other kids at risk.”
Although two years have passed since the incident, it hasn’t gotten any easier to accept.
“I don’t believe there’s ever closure on something like this,” Wright said. “This is a huge gaping hole that will be there forever. All that’s happened is you get used to the pain.”
And while the family will always be grieving, they hope the lawsuit will at least provide some answers.
“Alex is not coming back no matter what happens and that’s far more important than anything else,” Gillespie said. “It’s simply, what we believe is, a sense of obligation. We owe this to Alex.”