In news media reports from November 14, 2019 it was revealed that Brenda King, a resident of Chatham, Ontario died when her vehicle was found submerged in a water-filled ditch next to Tecumseh Road between Lake St Clair and Tilbury, Ontario. A single photo, shown below, was made available to the public, via the OPP, showing the vehicle resting on its wheels on a road surface. In the background one can see a water-filled ditch.
There was little mention of the tragedy in any of the majors news outlets. And there was little information about the specific location where the vehicle was found. Comparing the background in the photo Gorski Consulting examined Googlemaps images and was able to locate the site, as shown in several images below.
Clearly this site does not contain any barrier to prevent vehicles from entering the water. While Tecumseh Road likely contains a low traffic volume the site is also the location of a T-intersection with Essex County Road 39 which leads to the higher population area of Lighthouse Cove on the shore of Lake St Clair. Thus any vehicles that might miss detecting the stop sign at the T-intersection would also end up in the water-filled ditch. There was no indication from news media or police as to how Ms. King’s vehicle ended up submerged and which direction she was travelling.
Furthermore, a 2008 Transportation Master Plan of the Town of Lakeshore (where the site resides) recommended that this intersection be improved to carry more traffic, as noted in this quote taken from the 2008 study:
“Lighthouse Community Access – At present, the Lighthouse community is provided with only one formal access via CR 39. This roadway and other associated connections are susceptible to restrictions from temporary flooding and rail operations. From an emergency services perspective, the Town should pursue a second allseason road connection to this area.”
This recommended improvement is also noted in graphic form showing other recommended improvements for the area, as shown in the upper right corner of the figure below.
Regrettably, the Transportation Master Plan focused on Level of Service in terms of the numbers of vehicles that might be using the various roadways and what improvements would be needed to improve the flow of traffic. At no point did the Master Plan address the serious safety deficiencies that existed, not only at the site of the drowning of Ms. King but at many of the other sites in the area where bodies of water exist close to the road edges and there is not barrier existing to protect the driving public from death due to drowning. In many respects, this document provides a glimpse of similar analysis and projections that are conducted by various professional engineering firms that focus on “Level of Service” rather than, or including, “Level of Safety”.
The difficulty has been discussed by Gorski Consulting in several postings to this website where the installation of various barriers along roadsides is recognized as a major cost item. The Counties of Lambton, Kent and Essex contain a large number of secondary roadways where water-filled ditches exist. As a result Gorski Consulting has reported on many previous deaths due to drowning in these Counties, similar to the one being discussed. This major cost makes it difficult to provide those large numbers of barriers that are needed. In the years before the enactment of Ontario’s Municipal Act, the Province of Ontario was much more involved in the standardization of roads, especially in the standardization of levels of safety. As the responsibility of the maintenance of roads were downloaded to individual municipalities regional disparities emerged as richer areas, or areas of less demand, are able to deal with safety improvements from their own tax base. But for mainly rural areas of the Counties of Lambton, Kent and Essex, infrastructure improvements remain limited due to the limited means to make them. And here lies the folly in this non-standardization of safety in the Province. Not only do local residents suffer the potential from drowning in water-filled ditches but visitors to the area, who are not familiar with specific roadways, fall into these “mouse traps”.
There have been many incidents such as the one experienced by the family and acquaintances of Brenda King where individuals do not carry a loud voice that can be heard by the general public. When police and news media do not publicize the dangers of these ditches no one knows or cares.
Past history is a educator when we look at the numbers of reported drowning in official Provincial statistics. In the 1988 Ontario Road Safety Annual Report the following statistics were noted with respect to vehicular drownings in the Province:
Number of Motor Vehicles Involved in Accidents Based on Initial Impact Type –
Impact of “Water Course” =, no fatals, 6 personal injury collisions, 7 property damage collisions, no fatals.
Submersion = No fatals, 1 personal injury collision, 3 property damage collisions.
No fatals in all of the year in 1988, yet we can read of several submersion deaths in the news media every month in the last few years. And Gorski Consulting has listed these instances in a number of news items and articles on this website. So who do we believe? Has there suddenly become a large increase in fatals from drowning in the last few years. Or have the annual statistics from the Province of Ontario failed to flag these instances?
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