A second person has died on a notorious stretch of the In-SHUCK-ch forest service road in less than four months.
Saturday afternoon, 39-year-old Francois Valotaiere was killed after the vehicle he was driving plunged into the Tenas Narrows section of the Lillooet Lake, approximately 25 km south-west of Pemberton.
RCMP, Search and Rescue, the fire department and paramedics were dispatched to the scene after receiving a report that a vehicle was submerged.
The passenger, Valotaiere’s wife, Marie-Pierre Dennis, escaped, but the driver was trapped inside.
Cpl. Paul Vadik said this particular crash was likely caused by a combination of speed, drugs and alcohol, but he also believes the road needs to be improved.
Vadik said the accident occurred along a straight stretch of road about half a kilometre in length, followed by a sharp corner.
“So if you are going too quick, that corner can come back to bite you,” said Vadik.
On April 20, an accident occurred in the same spot, claiming the life of a 32-year-old woman. A 32-year-old Alberta woman was discovered dead in her vehicle in Lillooet Lake approximately 25 km from Pemberton.
Vadik said it is unusual to see two fatalities in the same location.
A meeting is scheduled for Aug. 2 to discuss plans for the In-SHUCK-ch road, which has been plagued with flooding and closures. The road, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forests, is used on a daily basis by members of First Nations communities, who live along the stretch of road. When it becomes impassable, usually because of heavy rains or freezing conditions, community members are stranded.
In-SHUCK-ch leaders, representatives from the Ministry of Forests, the Department of Indian Affairs, the RCMP and tribal police will all be in attendance at the meeting.
Chief negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, Gerard Peters, said he hopes to develop a range of plans for the road at Thursday’s meeting.
On a short-term basis, Peters wants to develop better emergency response plans for when the road does flood, and discuss elevating the roadbed to prevent flooding altogether.
But ultimately, he hopes they can transfer responsibility for the In-SHUCK-ch road from the Ministry of Forests to the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. Peters said this change is important because Ministry of Forests’ policies only maintain roads to a basic level.
“In order for it to be maintained as a safe, year-round road, the authority has to transfer from the Minister of Forests to the Minister of Transportation and Highways,” said Peters.
Joan McIntyre, MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, said she has been trying to call attention to the road for a couple of years. But it has been difficult to get funds to do upgrades on the road.
“Unfortunately, it’s not been forthcoming,” said McIntyre, “but I’m not giving up.”
McIntyre also said the area needs attention from the federal government, especially since the road is so important to the First Nations communities.
Peters said the weekend’s fatal accident shows that the road is unsafe, even if weather conditions are fair.
“As a result of the recent high water levels a couple of times in the last month, the roads washed… and it’s not as wide as it was previously.”
Peters emphasizes that drivers need to be aware of poor road conditions in the area and be cautious.
“People kind of leave their common sense at home when they’re on these roads, because they’re not well policed and they’re quite isolated and people take risks.”
If the jurisdiction was handed over to the Minister of Transportation and Highways, Peters believes police patrols would be increased.
Stakeholders are also in the process of planning a public meeting, so community members — not just government agencies — can be involved in improving the road.
Even if plans are made to improve the road, Peters acknowledged that the end of summer is approaching, and there may not be time to start work before the fall and winter.
“The water’s going to come up again, and it’s happened in the past,” said Peters.
“… I think it’s time that the resources were applied to fix the matter.”