Being stopped on Highway 401 is a recipe for disaster and was demonstrated once again in a collision that occurred near Kenesserie Road on Monday morning, June 11, 2018, just east of Chatham, Ontario.
It was reported that the above-pictured vehicle had come to a stop as a result of another collision that occurred earlier. A transport truck coming from behind failed to stop and struck the vehicle pushing it into the median. One need not be an expert to recognize that the extent of crush was such that fatal injuries could easily have occurred. Setting that aside however the lack of major injuries is also not as surprising as one might think.
Looking at the back bumper and right rear wheel it can be seen that these structures were not crushed forward to the extent of the structures above. It is well-known in the collision reconstruction community that the stiffness of passenger vehicles lies at the bumper level and when there is “over-ride” damage from impacts by taller vehicles such as transport trucks, there is a lot of energy dissipation that occurs in the softer structure (sheet metal, etc) resulting in a lot of crush and structural intrusion into the occupant space. Normally structural intrusion is very bad. But in this case there was likely no one in the vehicle except the driver and it can been that the structural intrusion was not as significant at the driver’s seat (even though the angle of the photograph tends to hide that fact). So in this exceptional case, it was advantageous to have the tremendous extent of deformation and crush as this would increase the collision time and thus reduce the acceleration which causes injury. What may not be apparent is that if the car’s structure was extremely stiff and did on crush then the struck vehicle would be accelerated forward in a much faster time and this would increase the acceleration experienced by the struck driver. Never-the-less, it was a lucky occurrence that, even via a minor adjustment to the circumstances, could easily have resulted in fatal injuries to this driver.
At the same time as this incident was being reported, CTV News published an article using OPP statistics indicating that “Fatal transport truck crashes up 25 per cent” over the previous year. As is typical of such inflammatory pronouncements they did not actually tell anyone what the numbers were. So, as an example, if there were two fatal collisions last year, and four collisions this year that would be a 100 per cent increase. But does that mean that we should become hysterical about these numbers? Clearly this could be normal, typical, fluctuation of collision numbers.
As typical the partnership of the OPP with the CTV article places most of the blame for transport truck crashes on truck drivers. In reality, OPP investigations are not as complete or accurate to allow such a broad generalization. In most of the investigations we have examined in the past glaring errors exist such that the facts and analysis gathered from such collisions rarely provide a correct indication of the causes. While driver error cannot be discounted, a properly detailed investigation and analysis often reveals that the causes are far more complicated.
Rear-end impacts on Highway 401 are a typical example of the dangerous events that occur without properly detailed accounting of the factors that lead to them. It requires that the purpose of investigation be adjusted not just to punish drivers, but to scientifically document and analyze incidents to make all users of the highway safe from all potential hazards.
While the typical discussion of news media centred around irrelevant issues, the important questions regarding how and why a tour bus of Chinese passengers sideswiped a rock cut on the side of Highway 401 near Prescott, Ontario were never asked and therefore no answers were given.
It was Monday afternoon, June 4, 2018 when reports began coming in of a serious bus crash involving multiple injured passengers on Highway 401 near Prescott, Ontario. As the reports continued it was revealed that at least 5 passengers sustained critical level injuries and, as of the present time, one of those passengers has now been declared deceased.
As is typical in such matters police closed the roadway where the collision took place and this resulted in news media scrambling to take long-distance and aerial photos of the bus. In the vast majority of these instances the critical evidence of importance is often located along the travel path of the vehicle leading up to the final rest position of the vehicle. Yet, in almost every circumstance all the news media flock to taking photos and video of the damaged vehicle without documenting the important evidence that might reveal how and why the collision occurred. The critical evidence would lie within the last 200 or 300 metres of roadway east of where the bus came to rest so that we could identify important clues such as tire marks, debris, or characteristics of the road.
Even through there were only poor views of the area there were still areas of concern that were revealed. Primarily a rock cut existed close to the road and there was no evidence of a guardrail or any other device placed along this major expressway that would keep high speed traffic protected from travelling into the rock cut. Secondly, the steepness of the slope of the roadside appeared to be excessive thus taking any wayward vehicle toward the rock cut. Thirdly, there were road maintenance pylons visible along the side of the highway suggesting there was some work in progress that might have been a factor causing the bus to veer off of the roadway. Fourth, there appeared to be a new patch in the road surface a short distance from where the bus came to rest and along the median edge of the road surface. Such evidence could suggest that other patches existed or surface deficiencies existed that had not yet been repaired. None of these important facts were discussed in any of the news media coverage of the tragedy. Undoubtedly, as typically happens, a police spokesperson will stand before a news camera and will proclaim that an investigation is under way and it is too early to say anything of relevance, and the matter will float away from the public’s memory until the next tragedy occurs.
An interesting sideline is that the Mayor the Town of Prescott was actually interviewed and expressed his concern over the number of serious collisions that have occurred recently in area of the bus crash. Mayor Brett Todd referred to two serious tractor-trailer crashes that had occurred on Highway 401 and he complained of the highway being reduced to a single lane of traffic: “Whenever you have a reduction in lanes, it seems that we have these serious accidents”. In fact that is a wise observation coming from a non-expert that could have been made by anyone. But no one has made that comment, or least such a comment was never brought to the public’s attention.
In fact, many safety problems exist when lane closures take place in the presence of a large percentage of heavy truck on Highway 401. This is a simple conclusion that could be made by anyone. While protest groups have called for median barriers to be placed in areas such as at the Chatham- Kent area, no one has really stopped to ask how many serious collisions are occurring when there are lane closures and heavy trucks are involved. Median barriers are important safety improvements but there are many other safety concerns that also need to be highlighted.
So what happened with the tour bus collision near Prescott? Why did it veer off the road? News media immediately focused on the driver of the bus, the bus tour company and the possibility of a defect in the bus. However any collision analyst would understand that, historically, collision investigations need to focus on three general factors: Human, Vehicle and Environment, or HVE. This has been understood for decades by safety researchers. So where is the focus on the last factor, the Environment? Seemingly, in the psyche of police and news media the Environment factor does not exist and therefore it is never in the minds of the public that obtains all its information about collisions from these monopolies of collision information.
What we do know is that Provincial Constable Sean Coughlan was charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) with respect to an alleged collision between his police cruiser and an ATV operated by Edward Labadie and the incident occurred on June 22, 2016. We also know that the same Constable was charged with perjury with respect to his response to the same incident. But that may be as far as anyone can go with any degree of confidence. Yes, there was one additional known fact: Constable Coughlan was found not guilty in a jury trial that was completed near the end of May, 2018.
Despite the fact that a lone reporter was available to cover and report on the trial in Sarnia, we know nothing about where the incident occurred other than that it occurred on a rural Lambton County Road. We know nothing about what kind of ATV was involved. We know nothing about what type of police cruiser was involved.
Experts from the SIU and from the OPP both testified at trial. It would appear that the primary objective evidence was with respect to an imprint near the front bumper of the police cruiser that was astoundingly similar to the match of a wheel of the ATV; or so the SIU expert believed. But another expert defending the police Constable indicated that there was no such match since the evidence should have looked different than it did. The SIU were never able to examine the police cruiser until several weeks after the incident. And the OPP police supervisor who examined the incident used a professional “BS smell test” to determine whether the evidence sounded “smelly” and then did not ensure that any photographs of the police cruiser were taken so objective evidence could be made available after the fact.
In all, whether the Constable was truly innocent of any mischief will be irrelevant. The actions of those surrounding the incident, whether from the SIU or from the OPP, were so inappropriate, or reported so, that no one reading the news media reports of the trial could feel confident that anything resembling the truth was resolved. If members of the public wanted to review the actual transcripts of the trial they would have to pay hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to the transcribers – a private business that must make money from such transactions. But no one would consider that such transparency is an important component of our democracy and should be made available.
No one can be realistically comfortable when the SIU cannot examine evidence until several weeks after an occurrence. No one can be reasonably comfortable when the SIU expert giving testimony has not been publically identified in any manner as to his expertise in such matters. But this is typical of the secrecy behind the operations and staffing of the SIU.
Still, no one can be comfortable when an explanation has not been provided why the OPP did not take photographs of the police cruiser when the Supervisor knew that the SIU was likely to be involved. No one can be comfortable when there was no explanation why witnesses who testified that the police cruiser was directly behind the ATV and that this information was passed onto the OPP Supervisor but nothing was indicated as to what the Supervisor did with that information.
In all, the proceedings demonstrate the lack of professionalism, truthfulness and discipline that the public should expect but do not receive. The old adage that “justice must be seen to be done…” is not just a cute little saying, but then again, maybe it is.
As visitors may have already realized the Gorski Consulting website is receiving some format changes. Some testing and experimentation is in the works to make sure we are happy with the new look. “Stay tuned”.
Just after posting the news item below regarding the drowning near Jarvis, Ontario, news media are now reporting that a vehicle entered the Grand River near Grand Valley, about 20 kilometres west of Orangeville, Ontario where it has been found submerged. A female driver of the vehicle managed to escape however news media are indicating that a child occupant of the vehicle is missing. The vehicle was reportedly swept several kilometres downstream, presumably south, from where it entered. Efforts will now be made to withdraw the vehicle from the river.
Again, the question remains, how did the vehicle come to enter the water? Police are quoted as saying the driver entered onto a closed road and then subsequently entered the water but that says very little. Which road was closed? How was it closed? Was it something where sufficient information was not provided to the driver and a misunderstanding occurred? Where precisely did this entering of the water occur? As per past experience these are important questions that are unlikely to see the light of day.
UPDATE: February 23, 2018; 0900 hours
Further details have been revealed in the last couple of days however majors issues still remain unanswered.
In earlier reports the incident reportedly occurred at 0215 hours however several news agencies reported it occurred at 0100 hours on February 21, 2018. The site where the van entered into the Grand River was reported to be “near 10th Line and Henry Street. It was reported that the van was swept down the river for several kilometres.
In a CP24 News article of 1403 hours of February 21st it was reported that the incident occurred at precisely 0053 hours when a witness saw the headlights of a vehicle bobbing and pointing upward out of the Grand River. A female driver and a 3-year-old child had occupied the vehicle. Constable Paul Nancekivell was quoted as saying “She managed to free herself right away and then the van was swept away moments later”. At approximately 0930 hours a van was reportedly located stuck in the middle of the Grand River however due the fast running water and large ice flows it was determined unsafe for rescuers to reach the vehicle and a cable was attached to it to prevent its further travel down the river. The location of the van was described as “under a bridge in between the 9th Line and 10th Line”.
In a further update by CP24 News at 2018 hours of February 21st, it was reported that a 3-year-old boy was missing as he was swept away from his mother’s grip after their minivan entered the river. The time of the incident was confirmed by police as 0053 hours. Police indicated that the female driver drove past a road block adjacent to the river where water was rushing over top of the road. The van was then swept into the river. Police indicated that the driver was about to exit the van with her son when “the boy was swept away from her grip down the river”. The van was found further downstream and secured with cables. Rescuers were in the process of searching for the boy.
Visibility at the time of the incident was reported to be extremely poor such that “You couldn’t see past the hood of your vehicle”.
There was still no specific information about the location where the van was swept away from the road and where it was found.
In a Hamilton Spectator newspaper article Grand Valley District Chief Kevin McNeilly was quoted as saying that the weather conditions were “treacherous” at the time the mother and son were swept away. It was extremely foggy and at one point the river rose three feet in a matter of 20 minutes.
In a CP24 News article at 0834 hours of February 22nd it was confirmed that the van had already been pulled out of the water however its exact location was still not provided.
In a Toronto Star newspaper article the young boy was identified as Kaden Young and his mother, Michelle Hanson was the driver of the van. Some indication of the location was provided in the phrase “Firefighters found Hanson, hypothermic, at a watery alcove on the river’s bank”. While this information is exceeding scant, at least it refers to an alcove.
In an article published by CBC News at 0919 hours of February 22nd, some specifics were provided. It indicated that the mother drove past a road closure sign and it was foggy at the time but police opined that she knew the sign was there.
In an article published by CJOY, Constable Nancekivell was quoted as saying that Michell Hanson had been “driving southbound down 10th Line and failed to stop at the road closure that had been in place. The woman drove into heavy water and when she tried to back up, the van was swept into the Grand River”. Hanson reportedly pulled her son from the van after it was swept into the river but lost her grip. She managed to pull herself onto the bank of the river but the van was swept seven kilometres down river and got stuck in some silt. Hanson was reported to live in the area.
In a Hamilton Spectator newspaper article of 0544 hours, February 22nd, the authors indicated that Hanson “accidentally missed a road-closure sign”, suggesting that she did not do so deliberately as suggested by Constable Nancekivell. The article also quoted Hanson’s family members who stated that Hanson did not see the road-closure sign due to dark and foggy conditions. Fire Chief Kevin McNeilly was quoted to say that his firefighters initially responded to a call about a motor vehicle collision just before 1 a.m. but, while on route, they were notified that a vehicle had gone into the river. If there was a second incident involving an accident it has not been reported by any other agencies. A rescue vehicle was sent to the Dufferin County Road 109 bridge where they heard Hanson’s calls for help.
This would imply that the van must have been carried past the Cty Rd 109 bridge if Hanson was not carried with the van. However it is possible that she also might have been carried downstream for some distance or that perhaps she moved down stream of her own volition. Yet the article indicated the van was found “upstream” where it was secured. This is rather confusing as it would suggest that Hanson was carried downstream, to the south, past the van which was found upstream, or north of her location at the Cty Rd 109 bridge.
Examination of the photos showing the van’s location one can observe a utility pole sticking out of the water and comparing this to images on GoogleMaps suggests that the pole in question was located on the north edge of the the bridge of Cty Rd 109, although we cannot be absolutely certain. A further examination of the GoogleMaps data suggests that the distance from the Cty Rd 109 bridge northward to the hamlet of Waledmar is slightly more than 1 kilometre and, if the van was swept along the river for seven kilometres as indicated by news media this does not make sense. Further analysis indicates that the distance northward from the Cty Rd 109 bridge to the point where the 10th Line crosses the Grand River is only 2.3 kilometres thus this is also far short of the seven kilometres that was quoted in the CJOY article. None of this confusion has been clarified.
Having examined further news media photos it is our opinion that the van was swept away from the road at a bend in the 10th Line located 1.5 kilometres north of the Cty Rd 109 bridge. This is a location just a few hundred metres north of Henry Street in the hamlet of Waledmar. In our opinion the van was likely stopped at the Cty Rd 109 bridge where Ms. Hanson was also found. At least this is the best interpretation that can be made based on the confusing information that has been reported. In fact the those reporting the incident could not have made this information any more confusing nor as if there was a purposeful attempt to preventing anyone from knowing the precise manner in which this incident unfolded.
There is an obvious conflict with respect to what happened as Ms. Hanson approached the wash out and why she passed through the reported road closure. If the water at the site had been rising as quickly as 3 feet per every 20 minutes it is not difficult to imagine that an initial placement of a road closure barricade could be overwhelmed by the rising water. The barricade could be partially submerged or even knocked over, as has been witnessed on a number of previous occasions on any roadway. If there was an actual trailer with some mass to it then that interference could be less likely. If a barricade remained standing then, even in dense fog, it would be difficult to image that Ms. Hanson could not have detected it if it was properly placed a cross the majority of the road width. Granted, with the lack of visibility she might be expected to drive into the barrier but it is difficult to believe she would not actually detect its presence. So what were the actual conditions at the road closure. There have no questions or answers provided on this important issue. As typical there a substantial outpouring of grief and emotion which is detracting form the important quest to reveal how and why this innocent boy likely came to his death.
Ultimately the revelation of how this came about is a societal issue, not a personal one, as we must all be responsible for ensuring that no one dies from unknown reasons by the actions of unknown persons.