The family of Brian William Charles Buss say he will be remembered as a father, brother and a family man whose love for his grandchildren and ability to make others smile could light up a room, not to mention his spot-on Donald Duck impression.
The on-and-off Kitimat resident was born in Regina but would spend his life all over Western Canada, including large periods of time in the Langley and Harrison Lake areas, the latter of which where he and his wife ran a gas station.
He would first move to Kitimat with his parents in the 1950s where his father would help build the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan) plant. More recently Buss returned to Kitimat in July 2019 to stay with one of his daughters after the family said they became worried about him being alone following a particularly bad fall last summer.
Buss died in Kitimat on June 1 after a series of incidents which began on May 30 at approximately 6:40 p.m. when RCMP responded to an incident involving Buss — allegedly intoxicated — at the City Centre Mall.
“We’re still trying to piece it all together,” Buss’ daughter Teara Buss Colombo told the Kitimat Northern Sentinel by phone as she sifted through her father’s things, looking for a wallet which was not on him upon being readmitted to the hospital.
Currently Buss Colombo is in Kitimat at a siblings house trying to find answers to the numerous questions the family have, including the whereabouts of a number of her father’s personal effects.
According to the The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), which is investigating the incident, RCMP officers had Emergency Health Services (EHS) assess Buss after receiving the initial May 30 call and then transported him to the local detachment where he was lodged in a cell.
While in custody Buss was reported to have fallen a number of times. He was subsequently transported to Kitimat General Hospital (KGH) by EHS before being released on the morning of May 31. Later on May 31, the IIO report states that Buss was transported to KGH overnight after a subsequent fall while out of both police and EHS custody.
On June 1 Buss passed away at KGH after being “found to be suffering serious injuries” by medical professionals who examined him that same day.
But as his daughter sat in her father’s room combing through his belongings in search of some much-needed puzzle pieces to fit into the events of the past few days she said the hunt for the truth goes beyond mere physical trinkets.
“We just want answers,” Buss Colombo said, expressing concerns about why her father would not have been flagged as a former fall risk by the medical professionals who examined him. “With the hospital that’s what I’m still trying to piece together, because [they] know his medical history and he has had head injuries, he has broken his neck before.”
She said that the morning of May 30 was, by all accounts, a completely normal morning, with her father spending the night before at the house and leaving early before anyone else was up.
Buss Colombo’s sister and her wife then left on the night of May 30 to go camping before coming back the next day to find the door to Buss’ room closed.
“It’s not unusual for dad to be in his room with the door closed, so they didn’t think much of it and so that’s all they could really tell [the IIO] timeline-wise [for] where dad was,” she said.
Currently the family has questions about the specifics of the approximately 48 hours between when Buss first interacted with RCMP at the mall and when he passed away.
Particularly, Buss Colombo wants to know why he was held at the RCMP detachment if the hospital was already aware of his previous history with injuries from falls. She also has concerns about what his condition was like when the hospital released him from their care on May 31.
“If they released him in any kind of state like that, like why would they do that?”
Family members described Brian as the kind of individual who always loved to make others smile and who would light up a room with his positive demeanor. He was especially fond of spending time with his many grandchildren.
“He just absolutely adored them,” said Buss Colombo of her father’s relationship with her four kids, recalling the many times he would pick them up while he lived Calgary and take them out for day-long adventures.
“They’d just go and have staycations in hotels and go swimming and all kinds of fun stuff,” she said. “He just really, really loved his grandkids.”
Buss’ sister Vernus agreed.
“Everybody loved Brian,” she told the Kitimat Northern Sentinel from her home just outside of Edmonton. Vernus characterized Buss’ personality as “old-school” — always showing immense respect to everyone, especially women and children.
She said it’s still hard to process what happened. “You expect to lose people when they get old [or] in an accident but this is entirely different, it’s hard to think about,” she said. “I just keep thinking of him lying there and in pain, that part really hurts.”
Acknowledging the challenges of mourning during a global pandemic, she said her and her daughter — who lives in Michigan — recently had a virtual service in memory of Buss over Skype.
“Her and the kids just loved him, so they had a little funeral in Michigan and they set up a rock and everything with Brian’s name and date of birth and death, so it’s there for all time.”
Both Buss Colombo and Vernus and are hoping the IIO investigation provides the family — currently dealing with the loss of both Buss’ mother (to Alzheimers) in April and brother (to cancer) in May with some much-needed answers during a challenging time.
“I think that contributed a lot to his struggle,” said Buss Colombo, discussing her father’s challenges with addiction.
Buss’ autopsy was scheduled for June 5.
As for Buss Colombo, she said she is waiting to hear back on the results of the IIO investigation before she makes any concrete plans about further legal action, but adds it’s something she is definitely keeping an eye on.
“It is in the back of my mind,” she said. “If any of this investigation [suggests] that the cause of this was because of neglect or anything like that, they didn’t take care of him properly, I’d want even more answers,” she said.
As for the future, she said the family is currently planning a memorial for the three family members they recently lost but that due to COVID-19 the timing is still up in the air. “At some point our whole family — I don’t even know about the summer — we all gotta get together and have a memorial for grandma and two brothers all together.”
Despite the challenges he faced she said she will always remember her father as the kind of individual who never lost his ability to be the glue that helped keep the family bond strong.
“Dad was always the centre of it, you know? He loved to make us laugh and have fun.”
She pointed to a social media post written by her younger cousin Brittney as the perfect testament to Buss’ infectious personality.
“Uncle had a gift for being a goofball and us kids could sit for hours and watch him perform,” wrote Brittney in the June 2 Facebook post.
“I can still hear his laugh in my mind, he looked and sounded just like his daddy — our grandpa,” she said. “We can all find solace knowing that his soul is at peace and he can watch over the rest of the family’s shenanigans for eternity.”