A taxi driver recalled something unusual when he saw
Harding earlier that night.
The cabbie met Harding at the spot where he parked the
train Friday night. He said his regular customer seemed fine, with nothing
out of the ordinary.
However, Andre Turcotte did say that the idling engine
appeared to be belching out more smoke than usual, so much so that he
recalled that oil droplets from the locomotive exhaust landed on his car.
He said he asked Harding, twice, whether the puffs of
smoke were particularly hazardous for the environment.
His client, Turcotte added, calmly responded that he had
followed company directives to deal with the issue.
A short time after they left for the 10-kilometre ride to
the inn, the locomotive caught fire, a blaze that was extinguished by the
local fire department.
The details of what happened next will be at the heart of
investigations by police, the federal Transportation Safety Board, potential
lawsuits, and untold insurance claims.
Earlier reports have said Harding is on sick leave,
although the company boss said he's been suspended. Attempts to reconcile
that discrepancy received no response from the company Thursday.
Repeated attempts to reach Harding over the last two days
have been unsuccessful.
Police have released the first name of a victim:
93-year-old Eliane Parenteau. Most of the bodies have not been found or
Much of the local anger has been directed at the company,
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, who received applause from
residents as she visited the town Thursday for a second time, called MMA's
handling of the crisis "deplorable." The local mayor says she's
angry at the company boss for his response to the crisis.
With most residents being allowed to return home, only
about 10 per cent of the 2,000 who were evacuated will still be shut out of
their houses as of the weekend.
Details are slowly emerging about the man at the centre of
Turcotte has transported Harding on the $20 cab rides from
the train to the inn once or twice a week for the last four months and says
they've chatted together about their families.
He describes Harding as a really nice guy.
"(Just) imagine it's not his fault. In the meantime,
he needs support — he doesn't need harassment," Turcotte said in an
interview at his home outside of Lac-Megantic.
"And if it's his fault, listen, he will pay for it,
Several locals have fond recollections of their dealings
Another inn employee called him a "sweet" person
with lots of friends in his now-devastated second hometown.
Caroline Langlois, who has known Harding for
two-and-a-half years, considers him a friend.
"I really feel a lot of his pain," said the
barmaid, who sees him as such a close friend that she would share very little
information about him.
She said she has even defended him when hearing people
utter "abominations" about him.
"Because I know he's truly a good person."
Harding has yet to comment publicly on the disaster.
He has not surfaced since returning to his home in the
Quebec town of Farnham, east of Montreal, following a meeting with police.
On Thursday, there were no signs of Harding at his home.
Officials from the Transportation Safety Board were seen at the Farnham
offices of the MMA railway.
Canadian National confirmed Thursday that Harding was
involved in a minor accident last August at one of their yards in the Quebec
city of St-Hyacinthe.
Spokesman Mark Hallman refused to provide any other
details about the incident, nor would he say what prompted CN to discuss
"CN took appropriate steps following the accident and
has no further comment," he said.
A regular at l'Eau Berge's pub said that Harding, like
many of the drivers who stayed at the inn, would frequently complain about
mechanical problems on the locomotives — including minor fires.
The breakdowns would often delay the drivers and they
would show up late at the inn, Francois Durand said.
He said he and Harding have shared many laughs at the bar,
which he described as a positive atmosphere that includes railmen, staff and
"We chatted about all sorts of things — crap about
life, women," Durand said about his exchanges with Harding, whom he's
known for about two years.
Another regular said he's always thought of Harding as a
good worker and a responsible guy.
Harding didn't drink much either, Gilles Fluet said,
except for the occasional beer.
"I never saw this guy in an inebriated state,"
"I have more
confidence in this guy than his employer."