Mourners gathered at a funeral Wednesday to remember 57-year-old Michael Bleakney – who made a fateful decision to switch spots with another passenger just before last week’s deadly bus crash in Ottawa.
Bagpipes played as Bleakney's coffin was ushered into Barrhaven United Church. Hundreds attended the funeral service, which began with the song Amazing Grace.
Sunil Gupta said his wife, Romi, was the last one to get on the route 76 bus before the crash.
He said Bleakney asked her to switch spots with him, saying he wanted to keep an eye on his bicycle and he was too tall to stand on the stairs.
“She stepped on the staircase, they were holding the same pole and talking to each other when the impact happened,” Gupta said.
“She would have flown off the bus … he saved her life. He was an angel.”
Bleakney was one of six people killed last Wednesday when an OC Transpo bus collided with a VIA Rail train near Fallowfield Station.
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Friends said Bleakney was very proud of his Scottish heritage and family members ensured that was part of the ceremony to mark his death.
He was also a member of a Newfoundland and Labrador choir in Ottawa called Atlantic Voices.
“He wore his home province New Brunswick tartan proudly at all of our concerts," the group's president, Brien Marshall, said in a statement last week.
“Many of you will remember him as the go-to guy for all things Gaelic, and he was always quick with a joke or one-liner that he often laughed the loudest at through his mustachioed smile.”
A father of four adult children, Bleakney was an engineer for Public Works and Government Services in Ottawa.
“The greatest loss of course is for his family, he was the rock upon which their lives were founded,” said Tom Cooper, his brother-in-law.
“They will go on, they will sing and dance and tell stories and celebrate life the way Michael would have wanted it to be done.”
During the service, a co-worker also recalled his energetic spirit and said he was both "generous" and a "genius."
Members of the Ottawa police parked motorcycles outside the Barrhaven United Church on Wednesday to salute Bleakney.
A group of officers plan to do the same at the funerals for the other crash victims.
Sgt. Mark Gatien with the traffic enforcement branch said it means a lot to those involved.
"I asked for volunteers to assist with the funeral today, the whole squad volunteered and I couldn't say no to anybody," said Gatien.
"With something this big, it is our honour to come and show what we are capable of doing and show our respect."
Funerals for 21-year-old Kyle Nash, 35-year-old Rob More and 53-year-old Karen Krzyzewski are scheduled for Thursday.
A memorial service for Dave Woodard, the driver of the bus, is set for Oct. 2.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation by officials at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.