On Friday, Nov. 4, at a little after 6 p.m., a single south-bound pickup struck an 11-year-old boy on Highway 27.
The boy was reportedly crossing the road with a group of children on the busy section of highway in front of the Petro Canada Station on the Nak’azdli Reserve. The young boy was pronounced dead at the scene.
So far, the RCMP have not found any indication there was anything criminal involved, and the driver of the pickup is not being considered for any charges.
The RCMP are still investigating the incident and would like to speak to anyone with any information related to it.
A meeting with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure with Nak’azdli and the District of Fort St. James was one of a series of meetings to discuss solutions for the safety concerns regarding the highway through the entire community.
The most recent meeting took place at Nak’azdli on Wednesday, November 9, and was timely given the recent accident.
“People are still recovering from the shock of it all,” said Renada Walstrom of Nak’azdli. “(The fatal accident) brought up a lot of concerns that have been there for awhile.”
“The situation is the highway runs through our community, and it’s not just a community, it’s a residential area,” she said. “It just seems like that’s not taken into consideration.”
Better lighting, the speed limit may need to come down, lighted crosswalks, better speed control and enforcement, signs at the blind corners on either end of the reserve, as well as sidewalks or walkways are possible solutions to help make the community safer given the large volumes of traffic through the community, according to Chief Fred Sam.
Sam said sidewalks could even be looked at as a joint venture involving the ministry and Nak’azdli.
Another area of concern is the large entrance sign to the community across from Kwah Road which blocks the field of view for drivers turning out onto the highway. This is especially a concern now because a new playground is proposed for the area, which would draw more children.
Sam also said he would like to see solutions within a reasonable time frame.
“We want a quick turnaround on this,” he said.
But Nak’azdli is not looking for a one-way solution to the problem, according to Walstrom, and they are also committing to community education to make people aware of how they can also take responsibility for their own safety. Dark clothing on poorly lit roads and crossing at unlit areas are problems the community wants to address.
Councillor Brenda Gouglas was also at the meeting and said Nak’azdli had some specific requests and representatives from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure did commit to accepting an invitation from the community to come and walk the roads of Nak’azdli at night to see just how dark it is. Mayor Sandra Harwood was at the meeting as well and commented she did not feel the ministry is giving the matter the attention or response it deserves.
“I just got the feeling today … it’s like somebody pulled a string and the same words came out,” she said.
Another fatal accident in the same location on August 17, 2002 at 9 p.m. resulted in the death of motorcyclist Wade Christian.
The two deaths have the community frustrated at the lack of progress on improving road safety in the area.
Wade Christian’s mother, Sharon Buck, is also a truck driver in the community and said she considers the spot dangerous because of the combination of the amount of traffic, the number of pedestrians at all hours through the community with no real options other than walking on the highway, and the narrowness of the road.
“That whole stretch is dangerous,” said Buck, who also noted as a truck driver, when she meets another truck on the stretch through the reserve, she waits until the truck passes to go around pedestrians due to the limited space.
The RCMP were a noted absence at the meeting, with the Traffic Division out of Vanderhoof not attending, nor anyone from the local detachment. Fort St. James detachment Staff Sergeant Thalhofer said he was not advised of the meeting, and he was at the Yellowhead Road and Bridge (YRB) pre-winter stakeholder’s meeting for 2011 on the same day, discussing YRB operations and stats.
He said at the YRB meeting, he was advised the roads here are the busiest they have been in 20 years. He does have a meeting scheduled with Nak’azdli later this month.
Calls to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure were not returned before press time.