British Columbia

Van packed with farm workers crashes in B.C., killing 3

Three people are dead and several others have very serious injuries after a van carrying 17 farm workers rolled on Highway 1 near Abbotsford in B.C.'s Fraser Valley.

Three people are dead and several others with very serious injuries have been airlifted to hospitals after a van carrying 17 farm workers rolled over on Highway 1 near Abbotsford in B.C.'s Fraser Valley.

The RCMP say the vanwas travelling eastbound on the freeway near the Highway 11 off-ramp early Wednesday morning when the accident occurred. Two other trucks were involved, but the sequence of events is not yet known, said RCMP Const. Dave Babineau.

Some of thevictimsin the van were ejected asit flipped onto the median.

Thepassengers were not wearing seatbelts, said RCMP Staff Sgt. Bob Beaudoin, notingthe van was designed for 10 people, but the regular seats had been removed and replaced with wooden benches.

The victims range in age from teenagers to grandparents, said Beaudoin, a traffic officer.

Babineau did not release the victims' names Wednesday and said their families were being notified of the accident.

Vans are used by contractors to take workers to farms in the Fraser Valley, and the RCMP do check them regularly, Beaudoin said.

"But there are many out there, and the ships pass in the night, and we're not always [able] to find all of them."

Beaudoin said there was no sign of pre-accident braking and that the driver obviously lost control.

"At this time, we suspect driver error. Probably the clutter within the vehicle caused the individual to do a sudden driver input and the vehicle went in mid-field and rolled over. And of course, with all these bodies within, it was catastrophic."

Spot inspection needed, say critics

Wednesday's accident has prompted calls to have the B.C. government reinstate its roadside inspection system for vehicles that transport farm workers.

In 2001, the newly elected Liberal government did away with a program that routinely inspected the vans. Since then, four people have died and more than 30 have been injured in accidents involving the transportation of farm workers in B.C.

"If we just leave things to allow people to self regulate, this is what happens," Angela Schira of the B.C. Federation of Labour said Wednesday.

"We need to restore and increase the roadside spot checks of vehicles."

The inspection teams would focus on overcrowding, lack of seatbelts and the mechanical condition of the vehicles used to transport farm workers, she said.

NDP MLA Raj Chouhan, a former president of the farm workers union, said something needs to be done to improve safety, "[to] make sure that these vehicles are properly equipped with seats and seatbelts and to not carry more than they are legally allowed to carry."

The B.C. Ministry of Transportationsays the van was registered as a 15-person bus and had passed inspection just last week.

Babineau said people are allowed to alter their vehicles, but the vehicles must pass an inspection. He said the original seatbelts must be left intact.