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Donations pile up for families of victims lost in bridge disaster



More than $50,000 raised; more on the way

Whistler residents and businesses are rallying to provide financial support to the families of the four victims who died or are missing after the Rutherford Creek Bridge was washed out in the early morning hours of Oct. 18.

Jamie Burnette, Ed Elliott, Daryl Stevenson and Mike Benoit were all employed in local nightclubs. They were driving home to Pemberton, in two separate vehicles, after finishing their shifts. The vehicles plunged into the swollen creek after the bridge was washed out. Casey Burnette, Jamie’s brother, was in the vehicle with Jamie and Elliott but managed to swim to safety.

Within days of the tragedy, friends and co-workers of the families put together the Victims of the Rutherford Creek Bridge Disaster Fund to assist the families of the men, and fundraising efforts began in earnest last weekend.

The response has been overwhelming.

A silent auction held at the Crab Shack on Thursday and Friday raised more than $33,000. Moe Joe’s held a fundraiser party and raffle on Friday that brought the total to more than $50,000.

The Boot Pub hosted the Tragically Hip, Canada’s pre-eminent rock band, who have donated all the proceeds from shows on Monday and Tuesday, estimated to be between $13,000 and $15,000, to the fund.

The Westin Resort and Spa hosted a formal dress casino night and silent auction on Wednesday.

A bank account was set up at the Royal Bank for the fund, and Paradata, a local company that specializes in secure online payment systems, set up a donation centre on the Internet at www.paradata/rutherfordcreek/.

The Victims of the Rutherford Creek Bridge Disaster Fund was recently registered as a non-profit society, with a six-member board to distribute the funds. The first priority of the fund was to help the families of the four victims says Marianne Wade, a Whistler councillor and society member.

"Some of that money is already spent, covering air fare, helicopters during the flooding, daily expenses for the families, mortgages, everything that has to be dealt with now," said Wade.

Long term needs, such as paying bills and mortgage payments, will be addressed when the society meets for the first time and assesses the needs of the victims’ families.

A portion of the money will also go towards the creation of a trust fund for Cole Burnette, the fourth-month old son of Jamie Burnette. Race and Co. is setting up and administering that fund.

Wade knew two of the victims, Ed Elliott and Jamie Burnette, and is friends with Moe Joe’s owner Andy Flynn, who has spearheaded much of the fundraising, as well as much of the support given to the friends and family of the victims. Inspired by Flynn’s example, and moved by the loss of Ed and Jamie, she got involved with the society this week.