British Columbia

Deadly crash raises questions about Highway 3 road maintenance

Angry residents in the East Kootenay are demanding answers about privately contracted highway maintenance along Highway 3 after three people died in a crash on Saturday.

First person on scene of crash that killed three says highway had not been sanded

Mainroad East Kootenay is the company hired by the province to maintain highways in the East Kootenay region. (Facebook/ Mainroad East Kootenay)

A deadly crash that claimed three lives last weekend in the B.C. Interior is once again raising questions about road conditions and maintenance along parts of Highway 3.

Two men and a woman were killed in the serious collision on Highway 3 and Highway 95, when a tractor trailer lost control on black ice and collided head-on with an oncoming pickup truck.

"The reason that the accident happened was an unsanded northbound lane," said Creston resident Bill Truscott, who was among the first on scene.

The crash victims have since been identified as Cranbrook couple Clayton Murrell and Joan MacKinnon. The third victim, a man from Edmonton, has yet to be identified.

Truscott described the road as a skating rink at the time of the crash. He says he has complained to the province three times this winter about poor road maintenance in the area.

"We've seen a failure of contractors to take proper care of the road," said Truscott.

"And this past weekend, it cost lives."

'Lots of people screaming at us'

Mainroad East Kootenay, the company hired by the province to maintain area highways, has faced similar criticism in the past.

Cpt. Clayton Murrell, of the Cranbrook, B.C., fire department, was among those killed in the crash on the Crowsnest Highway. (Cranbrook Professional Fire Fighters Local 1253)

In 2016, concerned residents formed a group called Taking Back East Kootenay Highways

Tom Shypitka, Liberal MLA for Kootenay East, says he has fielded multiple complaints from concerned residents since Saturday's deadly crash.

"Upon hearing the news, it's grief and it's anguish and shortly after that, that pain turns into a bit of anger," said Shypitka.

"We've had lots of emails, lots of people screaming at us, they want answers.

"They say in our day and age, conditions should be better. We shouldn't be risking our lives going out on the highways every morning," he said.

In 2016, members of Taking Back East Kootenay Highways held a protest outside of Bill Bennett's office, the former MLA for the area. (Facebook)

CBC put in calls to Mainroad, but was redirected to the Ministry of Transportation.

Audit says Mainroad 'exceeded specification'

"There are many different types of contributing factors that can lead to an incident on our highways, and conditions and temperatures can change quickly," the ministry said in an emailed statement.

"A recent local audit of this segment of Highway 3/95 was conducted January 10, 2018. The audit findings concluded the Maintenance Contractor exceeded specification."

Shypitka says he has looked at the service logs — which are not available to media under a Freedom of Information request — and says the road had been sanded on Saturday morning.

"The company did de-icing at 2:30 in the morning and went through with the sand truck at 7:30. Sand was down, that's what the records show," said Shypitka.

"But then you see an accident like this and you hear the on-the-ground reports that there's no sanding done, and you've just got to scratch your head and wonder where the oversight is."

Shypitka said when he raises local concerns with his caucus, the privatization of highway maintenance will likely be a topic for debate.

"Public safety is first and foremost and whatever we can do to get to that high standard of safety, transparency and accountability, I'm all for it," he said.

Residents can report bad road conditions in the area by calling Mainroad's 24-hour hotline.

Residents are encouraged to report poor road conditions by calling Mainroad's 24 hour hotline. (Facebook/ Mainroad East Kootenay)

With files from CBC's Daybreak South and Chris Walker