The parents and family of Alex Gillespie, who was struck and killed by a TTC bus on August 20, 2010, are hoping a lawsuit they’re bringing against the TTC and the Toronto Police Service will bring about change in both organizations.
Bill Gillespie, Alex’s mother Kathryn Wright, and his siblings Mark, Ian and Kate Gillespie are named in the suit, filed late last month in Ontario Superior Court. The defendants are named as the Toronto Police Services Board and Toronto Transit Commission, Gary Steadman (the driver of the bus). The defendants have until late June to respond to the suit.
Wright, a lawyer, and Bill Gillespie, a journalist, provided a number of documents to the media, which they gained through Freedom Of Information requests. The documents are from the TTC; the Toronto Police Service has not yet responded to the FOI requests, according to Alex’s father.
“They’re a small fraction of what we actually asked for, but they tell us a lot,” said Gillespie.
The tragedy began with a Facebook posting about a party to be held at Woodbine Beach. The party was not an official permitted event, but according to correspondence between Wright and police, provided by Gillespie, 55 Division’s Community Response Unit expected a large number of attendees, since over 3,800 people had indicated on Facebook they would be attending.
At about 10 p.m., police – including officers on foot, in vehicles, on bicycles and on horseback – began to break up the party. In the ensuing confusion, thousands of people headed towards Lakeshore Boulevard, the only route away from Woodbine Beach.
Meanwhile, according to TTC documentation acquired by Gillespie and Wright, at least one bus driver on the 92 Woodbine South route had already requested extra buses, due to the large numbers of transit riders heading to the beach. No extra buses were dispatched. At 10:13, bus number 7794 left the loop at the Ashbridges Bay parking lot with a full load. The bus accelerated, and moved into the passing lane. At 10:14, with the bus at a speed of 57.6 km/h, Alex attempted to cross Lakeshore Boulevard, and was hit by the bus.
Gillespie believes the chaos caused by large amounts of party-goers being told to leave Woodbine Beach could have been handled in a more organized fashion, one that would not have resulted in Alex’s death.
“They have no place to go except across Lakeshore, and you could anticipate that it would be impossible for 3,800 teenagers to line up at two crosswalks and wait their turn when the light is probably green for about 10 seconds,” he said. “There were no police, traffic police, any police, on Lakeshore making sure that kids could exit the area safely as they were being told to do. That is incomprehensible to us.”
Allegations listed in the $2 million lawsuit include excessive speed on the part of the bus driver, particularly considering the amount of people crossing and even standing in the middle of the road; ignored calls for more buses from drivers on route 92; improper training and insufficient staffing at TTC central command; lack of traffic control and exit planning on the part of police; failure of police to notify the TTC of the event or the shutting down of the event; and that the police accident investigation didn’t include all the available evidence.
Gillespie said while he wishes Alex hadn’t run across the road, the other factors that created the situation should not have happened.
“They could have shut this thing down at 5 o’clock. They could have announced the day before, because they certainly knew it was going to happen the day before, if not even before that. They could have told all the kids ‘this is not happening.’ Why did they wait til 10 o’clock at night when it was dark?,” he asked.
While there is a dollar amount on the lawsuit, Gillespie said it’s not about money; the amount is set simply to make sure the suit is taken seriously.
“You can’t put a value on our son’s life. Is it worth $100 million? Is it worth $100,000? It’s kind of a ridiculous question, you simply pick numbers. It just happens to be the way the legal system works, if you’re going to launch a suit you have to attach a cash value to it,” he said.
Gillespie said because of his journalism background and Wright’s job as a lawyer, they felt a greater obligation to seek out answers and try to bring about change. He’d like to see changes to how both organizations operate, including more training and better staffing at the TTC, and more training and operating procedure improvements for the police.
“If some of those things happen and we can see some fundamental changes into these aspects of how these two organizations operate, that will be the best outcome we can hope for,” he said. “The one thing that we will not put up with is that what happened remains a secret.”
Gillespie also pointed out that Alex was only at the party for 20 minutes before it was broken up. A toxicology report showed that the youth was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he ran across Lakeshore; it was simply a bad decision, with tragic consequences.
“Alex was a Beach kid. He grew up in the Beaches…we don’t want this to happen to another Beach kid. We don’t want this to happen to any kid,” said Gillespie. “He wasn’t doing anything that was any different that night than kids in the Beaches always do.”