College promises inquiry into steepness of hill
By Jake Wray, News Editor
Tragedy marked the first day of the fall 2017 semester at Douglas College after three students perished and dozens were injured while walking up the hill on Eighth Street toward the New Westminster campus.
Witnesses described a scene of chaos as victims sprawled on the hillside, some calling for help while others appeared motionless. First responders scrambled to build an elaborate pulley system so they could lift everyone to safety.
Ali Hussain, a second-year accounting student, said he was waiting at the bottom of the hill for a taxi when the crisis began to unfold.
“One guy came tumbling down the hill head over heels, like an Olympic skier who lost balance,” Hussain said. “He was crushing people like ants as he fell. It was just—it was terrifying—just awful.”
A woman ruptured a lung about halfway up the hill, according to Sarah Velet, a first-year nursing student who attempted first aid on the injured woman.
“She just crumpled to the sidewalk clutching her chest. Her eyes were so, so wide. I froze. It was so scary,” Velvet said. “She was moving her mouth but no sound was coming out so I just started giving her mouth-to-mouth. I did that for like 10 minutes before paramedics took over.”
Authorities said the death toll could rise to 43 victims, as there are many people still in the hospital, many of whom are in critical condition.
One day after the incident, a mob of angry students gathered outside the offices of the college’s senior management team, demanding to know why the college hasn’t simply made the hill go away despite years of complaints and safety concerns. The protesters repeated several chants including “This is not the hill we want to fight and die on,” and “The big hill is a tough pill to swallow.”
Jim Bookfink, manager of slopes, inclines, and gravity for Douglas College, responded to criticisms levied against the college in a press conference late Friday evening.
“We are heartbroken by the panic, injury, and death sustained by our students earlier this week. Our hearts go out to the families,” he said. “The hill on Eighth Street really falls under the jurisdiction of the City of New Westminster, so this incident is totally not the college’s fault. Still, we have begun the process of establishing an inquiry commission to investigate if there is anything the college could have done better here. Could we have lobbied the city to make the hill less steep? Could we have installed an escalator?”
Bookfink said the inquiry will take 12 years and will cost approximately $929 million. The cost will be covered by a new fee that students will pay alongside their tuition each semester, according to Bookfink.
Singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill denied involvement in the incident.
“What the hell are you talking about? How did you get my number?” she asked, in an exclusive interview with the Other Press.