Improvements for Highway 95 could be on the way after a three-day Coroner’s inquest in Invermere shed light onto what led to a crash that killed three Lower Mainland residents near Spillimacheen in January 2011.
Winter road conditions and a surge of Highway 95 traffic caused by an avalanche-related closure of the Trans Canada Highway were among the factors considered in the Invermere courthouse from Monday, March 25th until Wednesday, March 27th, when the five-member jury reached their decision after hearing from nearly 20 witnesses.
The jury, comprised of people from the Columbia Valley, made four recommendations:
• That if the Trans Canada Highway is closed for any length of time and Highway 95 is used as alternate route, that Highway 95 should be deemed a Class A highway.
• That an acceleration and deceleration lane should be built at the Spillimacheen Rest Area.
• When Highway 95 is used as alternate route, that portable road information signs be placed both south of Golden and north of Radium Hot Springs.
• Considering the location of Highway 95, that the speed limit should be reduced to 90 kilometres per hour between Golden and Radium.
Of the four ideas, Columbia Valley RCMP Staff Sergeant Marko Shehovac said he’s most in favour of the reduction in the speed limit, given the frequency with which Highway 95 is used as the east-west link route when the Trans Canada Highway is closed between Golden and Lake Louise.
“I’ve seen more traffic being diverted in the past two years,” said Staff Sgt. Shehovac, who attended part of the inquest. “Even reducing the speed to 90 kilometres per hour is probably a good thing.”
Chul Sin Lee, Kwang Soo Cha, and James Chung Jik Koh were killed on January 19th, 2011, when the 1996 Oldsmobile sedan driven by Mr. Lee was struck by a logging truck then a Super B tractor trailer truck as the car was pulling out of the Spillimacheen Rest Area onto Highway 95.
Witness testimony revealed the car did not come to a full stop at the stop sign before entering the highway. Despite driver error being a factor in the crash, the recommendations will help authorities better deal with increased traffic spurred by major highway closures, said community coroner Shawn Jestley, who requested the inquest take place.
“As communities see this [traffic] increase every time this happens, some of the recommendations can help,” he told The Pioneer. “I’m happy with what the jury came up with.”
“The inquest was concerned with looking at design, engineering and maintenance of the highway, not with the cause of the accident,” he added.
The accident took place during an average winter day for the Columbia Valley, with cold, clear weather and compacted snow on the highway surface. Were the road designated as a Class A highway, it would mean a higher standard of maintenance would be required by provincial highways contractors, said Mr. Jestley.
Taking the stand on Tuesday, March 26th, commercial vehicle inspector Ken Squarebriggs described the scene he witnessed as he came upon the scene that day while en route to Golden.
The driver’s side of the Oldsmobile was folded in, with the steering column pushed onto the passenger side of the vehicle and many vehicle components destroyed
“It takes a lot of direct, straight impact to break a rotor like that,” he said. Mr. Squarebriggs also testified that a post-crash mechanical inspection showed some minor faults with the two commercial vehicles, but nothing that would have made them illegal to drive on Highway 95.
An inquest is a formal court process that allows for public presentation of evidence relating to a death, in which the goal is not to find blame, but to shed light on how to prevent future accidents.