RCMP responded to three fatal crashes on Saskatchewan's highways Tuesday when milder temperatures, combined with snow and blowing snow, turned roads into treacherous skating rinks with poor visibility for drivers.
The mayhem started around mid-afternoon with reports, initially from Saskatoon, of worsening highway conditions.
By supper hour RCMP were attending to three crashes, with fatalities, one in the Estevan area in the province's southeast and another two on Highway 1 in the Regina area.
There was no immediate word on how many people died in the different crashes, nor were there any official details on the number of vehicles involved.
CBC News reporter Kent Morrison said one crash, west of Regina, seemed to involve eight cars and two semi-trailer transport trucks.
One semi driver told CBC News that he purposely drove into the ditch as he came upon the crash scene in order to avoid running into people on the road.
"It was just a total white out," Mike Brey said. "I was doing about 80 kilometres per hour when I came upon the wreck and decided to take the ditch. I would have killed everybody. I would have ran everybody over so I decided to take the ditch."
Witnesses said one person who died at the scene seemed to be pinned underneath a semi-trailer that had apparently jackknifed.
"We were right at the front of it and a car sped past us," Taylor Nepper told CBC News. "Saw him rear end somebody and turn around. We hit the brakes as fast as we could and swerved into the ditch to not get rear ended."
People who came upon the crash scene worked to try and free the person who was trapped using shovels and other tools to dig the person out. They said emergency crews arrived and were able to get to the person, but he had died.
"There was probably about 30 guys out here trying to dig him out," Chad Giroux, another motorist, told CBC News. "And then the fire trucks got here and everybody worked as a team and lifted up that semi with the equipment we had. And unfortunately it didn't work out."
RCMP said icy roads and blowing snow created dangerous driving conditions throughout the province.
The Highway 1 crashes took place on two stretches around Moose Jaw and Regina;
- 10 kilometres east of Belle Plaine.
- Near the Pilot Butte exit, east of Regina.
Around 7 p.m. RCMP said traffic was backed up and at a stand-still on the highway between Regina and Moose Jaw.
They said it would be several hours until the routes were no longer blocked.
RCMP from Estevan said officers and emergency crews were dispatched to Highway 47, about four kilometres north of Estevan in relation to a crash that happened around 3:45 p.m.
They later reported that the driver of a northbound pickup truck lost control of his vehicle and swerved into the path of an oncoming semi resulting in a head on crash.
The driver of the pickup, a 33-year-old resident of Medicine Hat, Alberta but working in the Estevan area, died at the scene police said.
They said the two people in the semi, the driver and a passenger, had minor injuries and were treated by EMS at the scene.
Police were still investigating but said they do not expect to lay any charges, noting that road conditions were poor at the time due to the strong wind and blowing snow, both of which are believed to have been a factor in the crash.
No name was released.
Bad driving conditions affected a wide swath of south and central Saskatchewan, police said.
Delays on Highway 1
Shortly after 5 p.m. CST, RCMP from the Moose Jaw detachment reported they were on the scene of a motor vehicle collision on Highway 1, about 10 kilometres east of Parkbeg, Sask.
They said both eastbound lanes of the highway, at the scene of that crash, were blocked.
They said motorists should expect delays in that area until the vehicles were removed.
There was no word on any injuries in that crash.
RCMP provided an overview of a provincial highway system that was choked with crashes, noting:
- Road conditions were poor from Weyburn to Lloydminster.
- Traffic remained backed up on Highway 1 east of Regina (to Pilot Butte) and west of Regina (to Belle Plaine).
- Eastbound Highway 1 was open to one lane of traffic around 11 p.m. in the Belle Plaine area.
- About 200 - 300 vehicles were waiting to move.
- Traffic was also backed up on Highway 6 near Milestone due to collisions in the area.
RCMP said they responded to 34 collisions across the province, with 12 of those in the Regina area. Many more vehicles were reported to have left the highway and entered a ditch.
Police in Saskatoon said roads were also bad in and around that city.
The provincial highways hotline noted winter driving conditions in all of south and central areas of the province.