Evelynn Williams was left stranded after making a washroom break during her trip aboard a Greyhound bus from Prince Rupert to Prince George.
Thinking she had time to go across the street to use the grocery store washroom, which had running water the bus toilet did not offer, to her horror Williams came out just in time to see the bus leaving down the street with all her belongings.
But the real shocker for the 32-year-old from Prince George came when she spoke by cell phone to a Texas-based Greyhound's customer service agent named Dana, who Williams says suggested she hitchhike on a -13 C evening to the next stop in Fraser Lake, 82 kilometres east of Burns Lake along the notorious Highway of Tears.
"I asked if there was anything she could do to dispatch the driver and she said no and told me to phone the Fraser Lake bus depot and suggested they hold the bus while I go on the road and hitchhike," said Williams.
"I said, 'do you know how dangerous that is, let alone it's illegal,' and I said, 'do you know how many women go missing on these highways and people get murdered?' I was horrified and kind of frustrated and started crying after she said that. I told her I don't know anybody in Burns Lake and I didn't have enough money for a room. I kept asking her if there was anything they could do and she kept saying no."
As a point of reference, hitchhiking is also illegal in Texas.
"I'm really bitter that she was trying to tell me to hitchhike on the Highway of Tears," Williams said. "She suggested I do something illegal and jeopardize my life on the highway."
According to Williams, the driver told passengers he was stopping for five or 10 minutes.
"Based on the time he gave me, I didn't think he would leave right away," she said. "I was quick about what I was doing and I got out and the bus was already gone. I ran after it waving my hands hoping somebody would see me, but nobody did. When he stopped it was 5:25, and when the bus pulled off it was 5:31. I wasn't dressed for the weather at all. Nobody should be left out on the cold."
The incident took place on Jan. 4. Williams convinced a Prince George friend to cancel his plans and drive out to Burns Lake that night to pick her up, about a six-hour round trip. She phoned a friend to retrieve her luggage from the bus which contained her work clothes for her job at Real Canadian Superstore. The bus terminal was not open and she spent hours waiting in a Burns Lake store. Williams was unable to recover a cloth bag she left on the bus, which contained a Mickey Mouse blanket, a small pillow and her bus ticket.
"They said there was nothing there that matched the description," she said.
Williams went to the Prince George depot on Jan. 7 and spoke to area manager Lyn Potts, who encouraged her to file a written complaint, which she sent to Greyhound on Jan. 10. Williams wrote down the employee number of the customer service agent and wants the company to fire her and the driver, whom she said were not following company procedures. She's also requesting the company reimburse her the $90 in fuel it took to for her friend to drive her back to Prince George.
She said the incident could have been prevented if the driver had taken a head count that would have revealed she was not on the bus when it left Burns Lake.
"She said they would refund me for the cost of the ticket ($171.47) and that there would be some disciplinary action taken on the customer service rep and the bus driver," said Williams. "It should be mandatory that they do a count of everybody at every stop to make sure everyone is accounted for. They are supposed to be doing that, but on every trip I've taken with Greyhound I've never seen a head count done. I guess that's why so many people get left behind."
The circumstances of Williams's trip experience were told by The Citizen to Grant Odsen, regional manager of passenger service for Greyhound Canada, who refrained from comment until he had a chance to investigate the situation.