Police suspect that a fatal accident on Hwy 1 west of the Christian Ranch on March 2 was either caused by a medical condition or was a driver suicide.
RCMP, BC Ambulance and Ashcroft Fire Dept. were called to a head-on collision around 3:15 pm on Friday, caused when a westbound car crossed the centre lane and stuck a chartered bus head on. The car was dragged for several meters and burst into flames. The fire left little behind to identify the driver, but police suspect that he was a young B.C. man in his 20s on his way to northern B.C. who had been reported missing by his family. His family has been notified that the deceased is possibly their family member. Witnesses in a vehicle in front of the bus said the young man was staring straight ahead intently with both hands on the wheel before he changed lanes.
The first accident report was that a school bus had been involved in the accident, and a decision was made to send every available emergency vehicle, including an air ambulance.
The highway was closed for several hours and the investigation is now in the hands of the coroner’s office.
The bus was carrying 22 Special Olympics BC athletes who were on their way to West Kelowna to compete in the first-ever SOBC Snow Sports Festival, being held at Crystal Mountain Resort and Telemark Nordic Club last weekend. The bus departed from Prince George earlier Friday and picked up athletes and coaches from various communities along the way.
Kelowna’s Capital News reported that Dan Howe, president and CEO of SOBC, said all athletes, coaches and staff were taken to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops to be checked out.
“They all went in to be checked over, just as a precaution,” said Howe.
“There were some minor scrapes and cuts. We understand there was one fractured hand and maybe one fractured finger.”
After all of the bus passengers were released from hospital, the coaches had a tough decision to make, said Howe.
“We gave the decision to the coaches of the athletes as to whether or not they would like to continue on or return home.
“They all made the decision they’d like to continue on – they (came to) Kelowna for the festival.”
A coach from Prince George, who didn’t want to be named, told Capital News about his experience Saturday morning.
Speaking slowly with his eyes squinted behind his sunglasses, he said he was sitting near the front of the bus as he witnessed the “horrifying” collision.
He and a few others got out to help the driver of the car but there was little that could be done. Flames engulfed the vehicle and the driver was “basically cremated.”
The coaches on the bus did their best to protect the athletes from the dreadful sight, he said, but some were still talking about the incident Saturday morning before their events.
He credited the “amazing” effort by police, firefighters, paramedics and witnesses who did what they could to help out.
The decision to compete in West Kelowna Saturday and Sunday wasn’t an easy one, he added, but many of the athletes were determined to move on and do their best.
Linda McIntosh, head marshal of the cross-country ski races Saturday, said that willingness to compete illustrates the determination of the athletes.
“They’re no different than any other athletes in the fact they want to go to competitions, they know what it takes and they work hard toward that goal,” said McIntosh.
The identity of the driver who died in the collision has not yet been released. Witness accounts and preliminary scene examination indicated the car was travelling in the wrong lane.
The SOBC Snow Sports Festival is hosting about 145 SOBC and 100 Special Olympics Alberta athletes and coaches. Athletes are competing in cross-country, snowshoeing and alpine skiing events.