British Columbia

Family pushes for police to reopen investigation into deadly crash involving farm vehicle

The family of a woman who was killed in a deadly crash on Highway 17A in Delta, B.C., last fall is calling for police to reopen the investigation into the collision, believing the case should have resulted in criminal charges.

Joan Sherry, 77, was killed when she drove into vehicle with no lights going less a third of the speed limit

Norm leans against a wall. He is wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt.
Norm Sherry is pictured in his late mother's apartment in the Delta, B.C., community of Tsawwassen on July 29. He is calling for police to reopen their investigation into the crash that killed his mother last fall. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The family of a woman who was killed in a deadly crash on Highway 17A in Delta, B.C., last fall is calling for police to reopen the investigation into the collision, saying the case should have resulted in criminal charges.

Joan Sherry, 77, was driving to work when her sedan crashed into the back of a farm vehicle travelling ahead of her on the highway around 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2021. 

Sherry, a grandmother who was one shift away from retiring from her job as a taxi dispatch worker, was killed.

The farm vehicle — a bulky piece of equipment called a pea harvester — was going no more than 30 km/h in a 90 km/h zone. It had no working tail lights on the rear, no wide load signage and no flags, according to a police report obtained by her family and released to CBC News.

There are no street lights in the dark, rural area and there was no pilot car to warn approaching drivers.

The report said Sherry didn't see the harvester as she approached it.

"​​It's been the most horrible thing my family's ever been through," said Norm Sherry, Joan's son, speaking from his late mother's apartment in the Delta community of Tsawwassen. 

"We want to prevent this from happening to anybody else."

A hand holds a picture of a woman holding a baby wrapped in a blue scarf.
A photo of Joan Sherry holding her grandchild is pictured inside her apartment on July 29. Sherry was killed in a crash on Highway 17A on Oct. 1, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Harvester 'in no condition' for highway, mechanic finds

Norm had dinner with his mother at her apartment the night she died. She left around 9:30 p.m. to drive to Vancouver for her last shift at work before she retired to spend more time with her family.

"I said, 'OK, mom, I'll see you. And she turned right around and she went out and she drove down the road," Norm recalled.

He first heard from Joan's concerned supervisor after she didn't arrive on time for work. Around midnight, he looked out over his mother's balcony to see police cars in the parking lot and uniformed officers heading for the door.

"At that point, I had a feeling of dread," he said.

A picture of a yellow utility vehicle from behind, on the side of a rural road.
The back of the pea harvester involved in the crash on Oct. 1, 2021, is seen in a photo from the police report. The report said the harvester did not have functioning tail lights at the time of the collision and was driving well under the 90 km/h speed limit. (Supplied by Norm Sherry)
A completely destroyed red car, whose front has been compressed by an impact.
The wreckage of Joan Sherry's Nissan Sentra after it crashed into the back of the harvester. (Supplied by Norm Sherry)

Highway 17A is a wide stretch of highway running through Delta, a low-lying agricultural city about 30 kilometres south of Vancouver. The crash site was less than 15 minutes from Joan's apartment, almost across from Delta City Hall.

The police report into the collision, citing a mechanical inspection, found the pea harvester was "in no condition" to be on the highway.

The 14.6-tonne harvester also had a transmission issue, which meant the vehicle was going even slower than its low maximum speed, the report said.

"Several witnesses contacted police over the first week of the investigation to indicate they passed the harvester that same night on the same stretch of road, and advised how dark it was and nearly impossible to see the harvester," the report read.

Police also found the driver of the vehicle had not been properly trained.

The lead investigator wrote there was "indisputable evidence" the company that owned the harvester disobeyed the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) and Commercial Transport Act Regulations (CTR). 

Driver, company ticketed in spring

The driver, the registered owner and the company that owns the vehicle — B.C. Frozen Foods — were ticketed under the MVA and CTR in April.

The company was also advised to properly train its drivers and ordered to have the harvester inspected and repaired before putting the vehicle back into circulation.

In a statement, the Delta Police Department said officers decided not to recommend criminal charges after a "conversation" with the Crown and did not submit an official report to prosecutors.

"The available evidence did not satisfy the essential elements of the most appropriate criminal charges considered for this incident," a spokesperson wrote in an email.

"We cannot speak directly for Crown on this matter or what charges we considered as it may have an adverse effect on the pending MVA/CTR court proceedings," it continued.

"As this matter is now before the court we cannot comment further."

A date for the court proceedings is not yet known.

Norm looks away from the camera in a dimly-lit room. He is wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt.
Norm Sherry in his late mother's apartment on July 29. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ian Paton, MLA for Delta South and a lifelong local farmer, drove past the crash site on his way home from dinner with his wife not long after the collision. He said he planned to speak with Delta City Hall about pressing the province for streetlights in the area.

"I have the utmost respect for our Delta Police Department … they did a thorough investigation," said Paton.

"I'm not going to wade in on what has happened with any sort of charges but I suppose the son and daughter of Mrs. Sherry have every right to go back and ask police to take another look at this and see.

"It's a little bit shocking to me that a vehicle operating without proper lighting, transmission problems … that there was no [criminal] charges whatsoever."

The Sherry family requested the final police report through a Freedom of Information request. Their request was initially denied, citing privacy, but was released after the family complained to the privacy commissioner.

Norm agreed street lights should be installed along the highway. He also said criminal charges would be a greater deterrent to farm operators, in order to prevent a similar crash in future.

"My mom was one of the sweetest moms. I mean, we all have sweet moms, but my mom was the sweetest mom that anybody could have," said Sherry, who has two siblings and lost his father to cancer in 2007.

"My family just wants justice."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story stated that Joan Sherry was driving to work in Aldergrove when the crash happened. In fact, she was driving to work in Vancouver.
    Aug 15, 2022 9:34 AM PT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhianna Schmunk

Staff writer

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can send story tips to rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

now