Survivor of deadly Ontario crash "cannot be happy"

One of the three survivors of a deadly crash that killed 11 people in southwestern Ontario last month said he "cannot be happy," despite being alive.

Peruvian migrant worker recovering after accident that killed 11

Abelardo Javier Alba-Medina is one of only three migrant farm workers who survived a crash that killed 11 people in February. (Ivy Cuervo/CBC)

One of the three survivors of a deadly crash that killed 11 people in southwestern Ontario last month says he "cannot be happy."

The Feb. 6. collision between a passenger van carrying 13 migrant farm workers and a Freightliner truck resulted in the deaths of 10 workers and the truck's driver.  

Abelardo Javier Alba-Medina, 38, said Monday he is thankful to have survived the crash, but cannot stop thinking about the co-workers and friends he lost.  

"I keep having nightmares," Alba-Medina said. "I'm afraid of going outside, of cars. Even though I'm alive, I'm not happy because the others are all dead."  

The father of two from Comas, Peru, had only arrived in Ontario on the Friday before the accident. He had spent that weekend getting to know his co-workers.  

On the following Monday afternoon, he was involved in the fatal collision at the intersection of Perth County Road 107 and Line 47, near the hamlet of Hampstead.

Police said the passenger van's driver, who was travelling westbound on Line 47, failed to obey a stop sign just before being struck by the southbound truck, which had the right of way.

The crash threw the van more than 40 metres, killing its driver and nine passengers. Of the migrant workers only Alba-Medina, Juan Ariza and Edgar Sulla-Puma survived.

Alba Medina and Ariza, 35, were both admitted to a nursing home on Feb. 14., and expect long recoveries. The other survivor,  Edgar Sulla-Puma, 26, remains at Hamilton hospital in a coma.

Memories of crash

"The doors of the van opened," Alba-Medina recalled during an interview with CBC News reporter Ivy Cuervo. "I was going to sit in the middle because I wanted to keep warm. Instead I sat at the back on the left hand corner, beside Juan.

"Someone screamed and so did I. I only heard a thunderous sound. When I opened my eyes I was on the right-hand side. Someone was calling my name and I screamed don't worry."

Alba-Medina, who recalled being barely able to breathe, said he thought he had broken his legs.

"I didn't want to die," he said. "I said, God give me the strength to stay alive. So I tried to breathe slowly thinking about my kids in Peru."

He said he saw the bodies of others around him but was unable to move and was signalled by someone else not to.

"I saw one of my friends on the ground underneath the hood of the van," he recalled. "Two others were still in their seats, but I couldn't do anything. I couldn't do anything."

He said he never lost consciousness during the chaos, fearing he might "never wake up" if he fell asleep.

He was taken to Stratford General Hospital by ambulance after the crash and then transferred to London Health Sciences Centre. He suffered a fractured pelvis, nine broken ribs and bruised lungs.

Concerns about the future

The provincial Workplace Safety and Insurance Board had said they would pay the medical expenses for families of the workers and survivors and would also cover the costs of repatriating the bodies to Peru.

Since then Alba-Medina said he has spoken with the WSIB and discovered he is not eligible for additional compensation.

"They say I'm not eligible for any compensation because I didn't work," he said. "My treatment will be covered and I'm being paid a portion of what I would of earned had I been working."

Giovanna Figeroa de Alba, his wife of 14 years, said she found out what happened the day after the accident in Peru.

"Many of us are neighbours," she said. "I was told the group my husband was with had an accident. My mom told me to be calmed, that everyone was dead. Only later did I find out my husband was still alive, but I didn't know what his condition was."

Abelardo Javier Alba-Medina is recovering from a fractured pelvis, nine broken ribs and bruised lungs. (CBC)

His wife arrived with their 14-year-old son last week, and they have been told they will be allowed to stay for a month.

"I'm thankful for how we've been treated here," she said. "Without even knowing us they've treated us like family here."

Their youngest son, who is seven months old, is in Peru being cared for by his grandmother.

Alba-Medina says he is worried about his future.

"If it's not too much to ask the Canadian government, I would like to be granted residence here on humanitarian grounds," he said. "I have a two-year working visa, but the uncertainty of not knowing what's going to happen after I recover weighs heavy on me. I don't know if I'll ever be the same."