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'It was a nightmare': 2 children dead, driver charged after city bus crashes into Laval daycare

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Two four-year-old children are dead and a man has been charged with first-degree murder after a driver crashed a city bus into a daycare in Laval, Que. Wednesday morning.

The deadly crash sent multiple children to area hospitals and parents scrambling to find their kids shortly after they dropped them off for the day at the Garderie éducative Sainte-Rose, north of Montreal.

A makeshift memorial with flowers and stuffed animals has been set up Wednesday evening at the scene of the tragedy as the community is grieving the children who were killed and injured. 

The driver, 51-year-old Pierre Ny St-Amand, was arrested at the scene and faces two counts of first-degree murder. 

He was also charged with attempted murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and four counts of assault with a weapon causing bodily harm.   

St-Amand, a Laval resident, was charged while he appeared via video link from a hospital bed in Montreal's Sacré-Cœur Hospital under police supervision. He refused to speak during the hearing. His next court appearance is on Feb. 17. 

According to Laval police, there is no known link between the accused and the daycare. 

Earlier in the day, panicked parents rushed to the daycare on Dufferin Terrace as soon as they heard about the tragedy.  

Sébastien Courtois said was getting frantic calls from his wife Wednesday morning about his son who was stuck underneath the bus after the crash. He was rescued and rushed to hospital.

Courtois said he feared he wasn't going to see his son again and that it was a "miracle" that he's alive. Two of his friends, however, were the ones who died, he said. 

"My son gained his superhero stripes today," he told Noovo Info.

"I can't say that with a smile because we have friends who are hurting … my son will be ok."

Sébastien Courtois, a father of one of the children injured in the crash. He said it was a 'miracle' that his son survived. (Noovo Info)

Witnesses describe a chaotic scene Wednesday shortly after 8:30 a.m. as some of them detained the driver of the bus after it plowed into entrance of the daycare in Laval's Sainte-Rose district.

A parent at the scene alleged the driver "entered the daycare parking lot and accelerated to crash into the daycare."

"It was clear he wasn’t in his right mind at that moment," she said.

A city bus is shown next to a daycare centre in Laval, Que, Wednesday, February 8, 2023, where the driver crashed it into the building leaving two children dead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

WITNESSES SUBDUE DRIVER AFTER CRASH

The daycare is located at the end of a driveway, and the driver would have had to leave the road and drive down the driveway to strike the daycare entrance. Police say the motive for the crash is unclear. 

A neighbour who lives near the daycare said he rushed over to the scene of the crash. Hamdi Benchaabane told reporters that he and three parents subdued the driver, who he said had stepped out of the bus, removed all his clothing and started screaming.

"He was yelling, he didn't stop yelling," Benchaabane said. "The first thing he did was take off all his clothes after opening the bus door ... He was just yelling, there were no words coming out of his mouth."

He said he and the others had to strike the driver to get him under control, before police handcuffed the man. The driver, he said, "was in a different world."

Pierre Ny St-Amand was arrested after a Laval city bus crashed into a daycare, killing two children and injuring more, according to Noovo Info police sources.

Benchaabane said he was able to help pull one child from the daycare, adding that he and the others tried to save a second child before firefighters ordered them to leave because pieces of the roof were at risk of falling.

"It was a nightmare, I can't believe it," he said of what he witnessed. "It was horrible."

Parents and their children are loaded onto a warming bus as they wait for news after a bus crashed into a daycare centre in Laval, Que., on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

2 KIDS DIED, 6 OTHERS INJURED

First responders confirmed to Noovo Info that one child was pronounced dead at the scene. Others were rushed to hospitals in Montreal and Laval.

Dr. Marc Girard, a spokesperson for Montreal's Ste-Justine's Children's Hospital, said four children between the ages of three and five were hospitalized with "various types of trauma" following the crash. The children — two boys and two girls — were conscious when they arrived at the hospital, which went into a code orange to free up resources and deal with the mass casualty situation.

One of them is in intensive care, while the others are being evaluated.

Dr. Marc Girard, Head of Professional Services at Sainte-Justine Hospital, speaks to reporters at the hospital in Montreal, Wednesday, February 8, 2023, where he gave an update on the status of injured children after a bus crashed into a daycare centre in Laval, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Three other people who need more critical care were sent to the Cité-de-la-Santé Hospital in Laval. Officials there said one child died and the others are under observation.

The hospital also went into code orange and doctors came in early to deal with the crisis.

"It’s very tough when these things happen. We have specialists, physicians, a medical team fully mobilized to deal with this," said Dr. Patrick Tardiff, the head of the emergency room at Cité-de-la-Santé. "The teams are very resilient and able to work under difficult circumstances."

Parents rushed to the daycare Wednesday, desperate to find their young children.

"Panic ... panic ... I called all my friends," said Julia Moreno, who said her three-year-old son was not in danger.

"My friend's son is at Ste-Justine right now," she continued. "I think he is okay."

The scene of a bus crash in Laval where two children have died is seen with aerial footage

Laval Mayor Stephane Boyer said police are looking into the events prior to the crash, adding that the driver had been employed with the STL, the city's transit agency, for a decade.

"Our hearts go out to the families and employees affected by this tragedy," wrote the STL on social media.

The bus drivers' union also wrote online that it's "wholeheartedly with the families and daycare workers," and that it's in contact with police.

Parents wait for news after a bus crashed into a daycare centre in Laval, Que., February 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

'A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY': PREMIER

Premier François Legault and the leaders of other Quebec political parties will be in Laval Thursday to show their support to the victims' families. 

On Wednesday, members of the Quebec legislature held a moment of silence in the Salon Bleu.

Legault said his thoughts are with the children and their families, as well as with the employees of the daycare in Laval. "We are going to give the parents all the help we can, and as a father, I am shaken."

"There is nothing worse than being afraid for your child," he wrote on social media. "I am thinking of the children, parents and employees."

Quebec Premier Francois Legault ponders a question at a news conference to react to the Laval bus accident and the negotiations on health with the federal government, Wednesday, February 8, 2023 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel also wrote online, calling the event "extremely tragic."

"We know very little about the circumstances," he said. "Our hearts go out to the families concerned.

Bonnardel and Christopher Skeete, the Quebec MNA who represents the district where the tragedy happened, headed directly to Laval after news broke of the crash.

"My heart is broken at this tragic event. I’ll be making my way back home today to offer my support to my community," Skeete said on Twitter. 

Flowers and stuffed animals are laid at the daycare where two children died after a bus crashed into it.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also responded to the crash.

"Our thoughts are with families in Laval who are living incredibly difficult moments ... we hope that everyone will be OK," he said. "We are following the situation closely."

With files from Noovo Info and The Canadian Press

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