Thirty-nine years after a crash that took the lives of five aboriginal people, Quebec provincial police say six investigators have been assigned to the case.

The announcement came during a meeting with community members in Manawan, the first such meeting since the deaths of their loved ones that day in 1977.

On the night of June 25, 1977, a van carrying eight passengers skidded off the road and into the Milieu River near the town of Saint-Michel-des-Saints, about 170 kilometres north of Montreal.

The two white men on board survived. The other five, all from the Atikamekw community of Manawan drowned.

They were:

  • Lionel Petiquay, 19
  • Marie-Juliana Quitich, 24
  • Marie-Nicole Petiquay, 15
  • Thérèse Flamand, 34
  • Denis Petiquay, 18

"We are going to do all that is possible using current technology, current techniques to shed light on the case," said Guy Lapointe, a spokesman for the provincial police. 

The investigators will speak to witnesses who have information about the accident and will analyze other evidence to see if experts in toxicology or other fields can add new information. That information will be brought to Crown prosecutors, who will decide if charges should be laid.

Family members said they were satisfied with the meeting. Francine Dubé lost her nephew Lionel Petiquay in the crash.

"We hope that thing will progress so that we can finally know what happened and allow us to grieve," Dubé said. 

Families upset by how police handled case

The two white men who survived said an hour after the crash, they lit a fire and waited until sunrise before walking 19 kilometres to warn police in Saint-Michel-des-Saints. But before they arrived, they stopped for a coffee.

The victims' families say they learned the news of the deaths not from police, but from children who were going door to door. 

Newspaper story, Manawan accident, 1977

Clipping from Le Petit Journal, Week of July 2-8, 1977 (Le Petit Journal)

They say an investigator never came to the community.

At the time, local police declared the crash an accident. Charges were never laid, despite the fact that a recently obtained coroner's report revealed the driver was impaired. In the report, the coroner calls the incident a crime.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada' reporter Francis Labbé