By Gary Kean
Star Staff Writer
STEPHENVILLE Wanda Whalen hopes her next trip on the Trans-Canada Highway is less dramatic than her experience Saturday afternoon. The Stephenville woman was in one of the four vehicles involved in a pile-up that saw a man and woman taken to hospital.
Whalen and her boyfriend were driving along in their pickup truck without any problem on their way back to Stephenville from Lewisporte when conditions suddenly turned bad west of Corner Brook.
“It was absolutely beautiful until we reached Corner Brook,” she said. “Then it got a bit blustery, but it still wasn’t too bad until we got to Gallant’s Hill. Then it was a total whiteout.”
Their truck had been doing just 40 or 50 kilometres per hour just before Gallant’s Hill, which is roughly five kilometres east of the White’s Road turnoff to Stephenville and the Port au Port Peninsula. As the blowing snow began reducing their visibility to near zero, they slowed to 20 or 25 kilometres. It was at that moment that a car, also westbound, collided with them from behind.
Whalen’s boyfriend and the man driving the car that had hit them both got out to survey the situation.
At that point, a van came out of the east and hit the 21-year-old driver of the car.
“I didn’t know if it was that man or my boyfriend who had been hit,” said Whalen, who had remained in her truck.
“All I heard was a scream and then I saw a body go flying four or five feet up in the air and land in the snowbank.”
Her boyfriend ran over to attend to the young man who had been hit. Whalen said it was obvious he had a bad leg injury.
As if matters were not bad enough, yet another westbound vehicle — this time a sport-utility vehicle — came out of the white and slammed into the three other crashed automobiles.
“I was really scared then because all I could think was a big tractor trailer was coming next,” recalled Whalen.
One more vehicle came by and barely nicked Whalen’s truck, but otherwise did not cause any more panic at the scene.
A tractor trailer did then come along, but the visibility had cleared enough at that point for the driver to see the accident scene and stop the rig.
The driver stopped and situated the rig so it blocked any more traffic from coming that way.
“All of this happened in about 30 seconds,” said Whalen, who had immediately called 911.
Within 10 or 15 minutes, emergency response personnel were on the scene. There were thee police cars, two ambulances and the Corner Brook Fire Department. In addition to the man who was hit by the van, a woman was also taken to hospital with what police later said were believed to be soft tissue injuries.
While it obviously proved dangerous to step outside their vehicles in such a situation, Whalen thinks the man who was hit may have been hurt even more seriously if he had stayed in his car.
“I think he was actually lucky to be outside his car because it was just a bunch of metal in the snowbank after,” said Whalen. “I think he could have been killed.”
Either way, she is glad no one was killed or hurt more badly.
She said it is important for people to slow down in whiteout conditions, especially when the roads are snow-covered and icy, for their own safety and for the safety of others on the road in front of them.
“Once you see something, you still need time to come to a stop so you don’t cause any more trouble,” said Whalen.
Whalen is planning a vacation to visit family in Alberta soon. She hopes for better weather when it comes time to go.
“I hope that drive to Deer Lake (airport) will be better than this one,” she said.