The family of the Sylvan Lake girls who were stranded at a B.C. gas station after being booted off a Greyhound bus are still shaking their heads in disbelief.
Last weekend Cheslie, 12, and Jessie Kazakoff, 16, were on their way home to Sylvan Lake after visiting their mother Vanessa Aubichon in Prince George for spring break.
The girls boarded the bus in Prince George around midnight and a few hours later the bus stopped in Valemount to switch buses.
It was then the driver looked at the sisters’ tickets and told them they had expired.
“They told us our bus passes were invalid and they kicked us off,” said Jessie Kazakoff, a Grade 10 student at Notre Dame High School in Red Deer.
“It was like 2 o’clock in the morning. They explained that … the bus was (full) and we didn’t have any seats anymore. They said since they can’t leave us there since we were kids, they would do the bus switch and come back three hours later with another bus.”
Kazakoff said she only looked at her ticket and it had the correct dates on it. The girls had separate return dates on the tickets.
Kazakoff said she is fine but she is angry at the driver for not catching the error.
“(My sister) was upset, scared and worried,” said Kazakoff. “They should have been paying attention and told us when we were in Prince George.”
The girls called their mother in Prince George who arranged for a family friend to pick up the girls at the station and take them home to Alberta. The girls were safe at home in Sylvan Lake in the afternoon on April 3.
“You don’t just leave two girls behind. Who does that? Who does that?,” Aubichon told CBC News.
Robin Rattink-Kazakoff, the girls’ stepmother, is simply shaking her head in frustration over the incident. She said someone at Greyhound should have confirmed the dates when they were printed.
“I don’t know why anyone including the girls didn’t notice the tickets were expired,” she said. “Why didn’t anyone catch this?”
She said the bus driver in Prince George should have noticed the tickets had expired when he let them on the bus in Prince George only later to boot them off in Valemount.
She added people often send their kids on the Greyhound buses especially for similar visitation situations. People want to feel secure when they travel and when they send their children, she said.
“It worked out in the end but I know they will not be taking the Greyhound to B.C. at any point, anytime again,” said Rattink-Kazakoff.
The girls’ mother usually picks them up for visits but this time they were put on the Greyhound because it was cheaper, said Rattink-Kazakoff.
Greyhound spokesperson Lanesha Gipson said Greyhound is taking the matter very seriously, as the safety of its customers is the cornerstone of its business.
She said the investigation determined that the girls’ tickets had expired two days prior to the date they travelled. While they were allowed to travel from Prince George to Valemount, the bus that arrived in Valemount was at capacity. It had no empty seats for the customers to travel, she said.
The driver called the Central Dispatch office to determine if there were any seats available on the next bus for the girls.
“Dispatch advised there were seats available and he would secure two seats for the customers, although a reroute to their destination would be required,” said Gipson. “The driver asked the customers if they were comfortable travelling on the next schedule, and they agreed that it was fine with them. They later stated that their father would come pick them up instead.”
Gipson said the Valemount location is a 24-hour facility with Greyhound personnel present at all times. She said staff were aware the girls were there and kept an eye on them while they waited, until their ride came to pick them up.
“The staff had constant communication with the customers, and were always monitored as to ensure they remained safe,” she said.
Todd Stone, British Columbia’s transportation minister addressed the issue at a media scrum in the province on Thursday morning. An investigation has been launched into the incident.
“The important thing first and foremost is to make sure that we have all of the facts so we understand exactly what happened,” said Stone. “That being said, I have to say no reasonable individual would leave two children in a potentially unsafe location on the side of the road. If indeed what has been alleged actually took place, obviously it’s completely and totally unacceptable.”
Stone said part of the investigation will be to ensure there is access Greyhound’s internal investigation.
“We’re reaching out to the mother so that we can hear first hand from the mother as to exactly what happened here, but I’ve got to tell you as someone with three young daughters of my own I just cannot imagine finding out that my children were potentially left on the side of the road in the middle of the night because of a ticket not being valid,” said Stone. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this and make sure that whatever action needs to be taken will be taken.”