There were no deaths or serious injuries in a multi-vehicle pile-up on Highway 12 on the bridge between Stettler and Erskine on Monday, March 3, but RCMP Sgt. Duncan Babchuk said that was luck.
Shortly before noon on Monday police were called to respond to a collision on the bridge, which had become icy in windy weather. The bridge, which like any bridge ices over quicker than a normal road because wind on both its underside and top cool the pavement quicker than a grounded road, is considered a bit problematic because of an S curve in the structure which requires drivers to turn on an icy surface.
It was that icy surface that led to the first collision, and when combined with the white-out conditions being experienced at the time, created several more as drivers piled into one another.
“In town it looked clear, but out there it was a complete white-out,” Babchuk, the Stettler RCMP detachment commander, said. “There was zero visibility.”
Stettler and District Fire Chief Mark Dennis stated that this was the largest collision that he has attended during his 20 years of service with Stettler and District Fire and Rescue, Babchuk said.
When the first two RCMP cruisers went out to the original call, they found themselves unable to reach the west side of the bridge due to backed-up traffic, instead having to turn around and travel side roads. There, the windy weather and snow wreaked additional havoc.
“The roads were almost drifted In,” Babchuk said of his experience, heading out to the collision site.
Most people suffered only bumps and bruises, though a few were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. According to Stettler and District Fire and Rescue, 11 vehicles were involved in the collision, with several more trapped in the vehicular melee.
Rochon Sands’ Colleen Carr decided that Monday to make a detour into Erskine to pick up the mail on her way home from Stettler, a choice that put her and her brand-new SUV on the bridge, right in the middle of the pile-up.
“It was just frightening,” she said of the conditions prior to the collisions. “It was a complete white-out. I just slowed right down to a crawl.”
She couldn’t see anything in front of her or behind her because of the snow, but suddenly out of the whiteness loomed a vehicle on the shoulder.
“The driver jumped out and began waving me down, so I stopped,” Carr recalled. As she came to a stop, the bumper of a vehicle in front of her became visible in the snow.
“He took a big risk getting out of his vehicle” because of the conditions, Carr noted. “He could have easily been hit.”
While the unknown good Samaritan prevented Carr from colliding with the person in front of her, now she had to worry about the vehicles that would come up behind her.
The grill of a large truck appeared in the snowy whiteness, but managed to come to a stop before colliding into Carr’s brand-new SUV.
However, the driver behind the truck wasn’t so lucky, smashing into its back end and pushing it forward into Carr’s vehicle.
“I just made my first payment (Monday),” Carr said with a resigned chuckle.
A mother and her two young children – Carr said she thought the eldest of the two kids couldn’t have been more than four or five – came and sat with her in her vehicle, since it was still running and warm.
“Her truck was totalled, I think,” Carr said. The young mother and the children were hysterical and spent a lot of time crying before calming down, something Carr said she could understand.
“It was scary,” she said.
In the midst of all that fear and concern and then the long wait, though, Stettler and District Fire and Rescue was a blessing, Carr noted.
“They kept coming back to check on people,” she explained. “They’d come and give us updates, and let us know what was happening.”
AS the bridge was cleared of vehicles, Carr found herself moving her vehicle to-and-fro to let ambulances pass. She said she was surprised to learn that there were only minor injuries in the collisions.
“There were so many ambulances,” she said.
The highway was never officially closed, but the backed up traffic and blocked highway made travelling the stretch of icy bridge impossible.
Police set up detours to help traffic continue around the crash site, which wasn’t cleared until shortly before 5 p.m.
An investigation into the collisions indicate that the original collision was caused by “a service truck…that spun out on the overpass,” Babchuk noted. The truck was towing a trailer, and three vehicles quickly collided with the truck due to poor visibility.
Two of the truck occupants required extensive medical attention and have been hospitalized, Babchuk noted, while others suffered minor injuries.
Four semi-trucks were involved of the 11 in the collision – the rest being made up of pick-up trucks, SUVs and cars.
Follows the official RCMP report of the incident:
On Monday, at 11:53 a.m., Stettler RCMP received a 911 call reporting a collision on the Erskine Overpass. Four more calls were received while investigators were en-route, reporting multiple vehicles and injuries to persons involved in these collisions. Stettler Regional Fire Department and EMS were also dispatched to the overpass, where whiteout conditions were occurring. At the time of emergency services arrival, approximately 40 vehicles were found to be on the highway and it was unknown how many and where the collisions occurred.
The investigation determined that due extreme icy road conditions, a service truck that was towing a trailer, spun out on the overpass. This lead to three other vehicles having a collision with this service truck. As a result of the highway being blocked by the initial collision, there were four other vehicle collisions that occurred in the near vicinity. This chain reaction was attributed to the limited visibility in the area, due to the blowing snow.
Three persons sustained injuries as a result. Two of the service truck occupants required extensive medical attention and were hospitalized. The third injured driver was treated and released from the Stettler Hospital.
There were a total of 11 vehicles damaged in the collisions. Four were semi-trucks and the remainder were pickup trucks, SUVs and automobiles.
Fire Chief Mark Dennis stated that this was the largest collision that he has attended, during his 20 years of service with the Stettler Fire Department.
Carillion Highway Maintenance were also on scene to assist with traffic control and plowing of the Highway.
The overpass was reopened 5 hours after the initial 911 call.