On Sunday morning, July 10, Clearwater RCMP received a call that sent chills up the spine of even the most seasoned emergency responders. A tanker truck hauling chemical had struck a minivan, rolled, and was leaking fluid into a ditch near the Raft River. It was unknown at that time how many people were injured, how serious of injuries were involved, what kind of chemical was spilling, or if it was dumping directly into the river.
A pre-authorized emergency plan was immediately put into action, getting the process going on what would be a very long day. The first priority was to get all essential services en route to the scene as soon as possible. The RCMP along with BC Ambulance, Clearwater Fire Department, Clearwater and District Highway Rescue, Ministry of Highways, Ministry of the Environment, Kinder Morgan, and many more were soon on their way. The second priority was to identify the chemical so that it could be determined if rescue personal could get close to the tanker to deal with the injured people who were trapped in their vehicles due to the crash. Once that was determined, the job of getting those people the help they needed could be undertaken.
All vehicles hauling dangerous goods are equipped with placards that identify what is actually being transported. In this case the placards identified that it was hauling a corrosive, flammable, and potentially toxic substance known as Fenepour. The recommended evacuation area for Fenepour is 150 meters, which meant the highway had to be closed until the chemical was dealt with.
Once it was determined that it was safe to do so, the two people from the van were removed and transported via ambulance to Clearwater hospital, while the driver of the semi was taken to the hospital in a police car.
Then the investigation into what caused this crash began. As all witnesses were interviewed, information was documented and compared to what physical evidence was available at the scene. After sifting through all the evidence a story emerged into what had transpired.
A mini van driven by a Texas man accompanied by his wife was traveling north on Highway 5, well below the posted speed limit. A loaded tanker unit was following it. The driver of the semi waited until they got to a legal passing area just after the Raft River Bridge and pulled out to pass the van. The Texan decided that he wanted to go back to Clearwater and made a very abrupt left turn in an attempt to make a U-turn. The driver of the tractor-trailer had to make a split second decision with very few options, none good. With the van crossways in front of him, he swerved slightly to the right and nailed the mini van just behind the driver’s door. Had he not turned, his front bumper would have gone directly into the driver’s door instead of hitting the reinforced pillar behind it. The van was pushed off to the side, the tanker slid down the road and rolled, spilling its load. All came to a grinding halt.
When all was said and done, the female passenger and the semi driver only received minor injuries, while the driver of the van broke his collarbone. It could have been much worse. The driver of the van was issued a ticket for driving without reasonable consideration.
The RCMP had three members dedicated to this crash scene and investigation, plus a fourth monitoring and assisting via radio and telephone. An auxiliary police officer also put in several hours on scene. One of the Clearwater Traffic Services members was on scene from just before 11 a.m. to after 2 a.m. the next day.
RCMP would like to acknowledge the tremendous effort put out by all involved. Many of the people that were out there that day were volunteers and received no compensation for their contributions. The police never want to get a call such as this, but it is reassuring to know that when one does come along that a pre-approved plan is in place to deal with what ever arises.
Also of special note, many of the local residents went out to the long line of cars that were stopped on the highway and provided bottled water and food to those stranded. Also, many opened their homes or yards so that people had a place to sleep or to park their campers. This kind of unselfish generosity shows our Clearwater spirit and goes a long way in presenting what Clearwater is all about. Good job!
– Sgt. Stu Seib, Clearwater RCMP