It was a slow process that eventually revealed that six youths were killed on McKay Road in Barrie Ontario in mid-August, 2022. Initially news media reported that the six persons were missing, as per Barrie Police who reportedly posted a missing persons report at approximately 2000 hours on Saturday, August 27th, 2022. The news media then reported that a Barrie police officer happened to come across a collision site at approximately 0200 hours on Sunday, August 28th. The site was reported to be in the area of McKay Road and County Road 27. The area was a municipal construction site. There was a very large drainage hole in the road and a vehicle was found in the hole with six occupants in it, all deceased. News media reported that “the intersection was closed since springtime” but it was not clear what intersection was being referenced, the one at County Road 27 or the one at Veteran’s Drive. It would seem more informative to state that McKay Road was closed rather than a specific intersection, if that was the case.
In many instances the news media will disclose if police believed that certain factors, such as alcohol impairment, were suspected to play a role in a crash. But in this case the Barrie Police refused to comment.
Instead of any details about the crash, news media filled their reports with the usual comments from dignitaries offering their condolences: Ontario’s Premier, the Mayor of Barrie, Barrie’s City manager, and Barrie’s Fire Chief.
By September 8, 2022 it was reported that police believed the collision occurred shortly after 0600 hours on August 27th. It was stated that the six young adults were heading to a local casino when the crash occurred.
By January 12, 2023 notice was given by news media that police laid a charge of criminal negligence causing death against Con-Drain Group, which was the contractor responsible for the McKay Road construction site. The charge of criminal negligence against a commercial company is unusual. This may be the only time in recent history where such charges were laid with respect to a motor vehicle collision. Almost exclusively such charges are laid against a vehicle driver. The idea that charges could be successful against a commercial entity leads to some bazaar thoughts.
Would police place the building housing the Con-Drain Group in some kind of metal cage with all of its employees inside? Is that how the punishment would be delivered against the firm? Perhaps a single representative, or several, should be surrendered as scapegoats. Maybe the company receptionist or its janitor? These comments are ridiculous, but seriously, it is difficult to understand how a commercial entity can be named and it employees can be successfully prosecuted. The outcome of failure to provide reasonable notice to drivers of the existence of the drainage hole could be the result of actions/inactions by several persons, each having some role but none exclusively to blame. If the owner of the firm did not provide sufficient training to his employees would he/she be solely responsible? Should the supervisor be solely responsible if he/she failed to examine whether those under his supervision failed to install proper signage even through he properly instructed them? Would the employee who was supposed to install the signage be fully responsible if the signs were not installed at the proper locations etc. if the employee was not properly trained? In the end this could be a result of the partial negligence of several persons, all with some partial negligence but none who could, or should, be prosecuted for the total harm.
Separately, if the condition of lack of warning existed, what did other entities do or not do, besides Con-Drain? For example police should be patrolling along roadways looking for possible dangers to the public. And the City of Barrie should have road inspectors doing similar patrols. If McKay Road was closed “since springtime” then did these road patrollers have the opportunity and ability to detect the safety problem? Was there neglect upon the Barrie Police for failing to train its officers in detecting roadway hazards? How often has it been observed that police are told they are not responsible for roadway infrastructure but they are there to control dangers related to driver behaviors? Should the Barrie Police charge themselves with criminal negligence? Is there a conflict of interest here?
There is legislation in the Province of Ontario dealing with Minimum Maintenance Standards (MMS) that provide clear thresholds for matters such as the number of inspections that should be carried out by municipal road inspectors depending the class of roadway. So a Class 1 roadway with a high traffic volume should be inspected at a greater frequency than a lower Class roadway. What Class of roadway was McKay Road and was it being inspected at the minimum frequency as assigned in the MMS?
Checking the Open Data database for the City of Barrie there is information provided on the Average Daily Traffic (ADT) on McKay Road. Not unexpectedly the data is confusing. A count reportedly taken in the year 2018 reported an ADT of 2293 vehicles yet the cell describing the Peak Hour Volume also contained a value of 2293 vehicles. Obviously the total traffic for the day cannot be the same as the traffic in only the peak hour of the day. Never-the-less if we assume the correct ADT data is 2293, then we can look at the MMS and determine that this would be a Class 3 road and its inspection frequency should have been once every seven days. And if the roadway was closed for April through to August, 2022 then that would be a total of just over 150 days. Thus there should have been a minimum of 22 roadway inspections carried out from the time that the roadway was closed up to the time of the collision. So If there was a roadway deficiency, such as a lack of proper signage, a road inspector should have had about 22 opportunities to identify the hazard. If these assumptions are valid then there should be no argument that the City ought to have known about a deficiency if it existed over that time frame.
Photos on various news websites shortly after the collision showed signage at the intersection of McKay Road and County Road 27. These signs indicated “Road Closed” with a tab below indicating “Local Traffic Only”. Whenever there is such a “Local Traffic Only” tab it leads drivers to disregard the “Road Closed” sign because it suggests that certain persons are allowed to travel on the road. In many instances such a sign indicates that the road is not completely blocked and that it is possible to travel through the closed portion. But was this signage erected or modified after the collision occurred?
We still do not know anything about what police found that caused them to charge the contracting firm with criminal negligence. And this is approaching five months after the collision occurred. Official news media indicated they asked police about the basis for the charge however a police spokesperson would only say that this was a very complex investigation, one of the largest they had been involved in in recent times, but the spokesperson apparently refused to answer the question. At some time in the future these comments will have to be compared to the evidence that will eventually have to be revealed.
Curiously, why have official news media not picked up on this issue of additional responsibilities for roadway safety by the Barrie Police and the City of Barrie? Why have professional journalists not researched this area, found the traffic volume of McKay Road, and reported the importance of roadway inspections, as required?
In summary, It is crucially important to identify what conditions actually existed at the time of the collision, why they existed, and whose actions or inactions led to the result. Even more important that applying punishments to those deemed at fault, is the importance of properly informing the general public. It is not the courts, politicians, police, or news media who should have the final say on how the repercussions of this tragedy will be dealt with. It is up to the general public that must be fully informed so that those representing the public act according to its wishes. Up to now no such knowledge or information has been disclosed.