3 sisters among 5 dead in Alberta highway crash
'It's tough to lose one family member, but when you lose five from one community, words can't express'
The chief of an Alberta First Nation mourning the death of five people in a Tuesday afternoon highway crash is asking for prayers for the bereaved families.
Five people from the Alberta community of Maskwacis were killed when two vehicles collided around 4:15 p.m. MT at Highway 2A and Township Road 472, about five kilometres south of Millet.
"Regardless of your faith, in these tough tragic times, in these times, we all believe in the power of prayer," Chief Vernon Saddleback of the Samson Cree Nation said in a news conference Wednesday.
You don't know when tragedy is going to strike.- Chief Vernon Saddleback
"I do want to ask everyone out there who is watching, who is listening or is going to read this, if you could pray for our communities … and pray for those families involved."
Three sisters — Cheyanne Soosay Northwest, 22, Dominique Soosay Northwest, 19, and Latisha Soosay Northwest, 23 — died in the crash.
Anthony Swampy, 30, and his girlfriend Terrelle Minde, 22, were also among the dead.
The couple is survived by a young son.
Cheyanne Soosay had three children, said her friend Eaz Ermineskin. "She had the most beautiful smile," she wrote to CBC News.
Samson, Ermineskin and two other reserves make up the Maskwacis community about 95 kilometres south of Edmonton.
Saddleback said the tragedy is a stark reminder of the fragility of life.
"We're all human beings and the bottom line is you don't know when tragedy is going to strike, you don't know when you're going to lose your loved ones," Saddleback said. "Make sure you have no regrets."
'Words can't express'
While the victims were originally from the Ermineskin and Samson communities, all were living in Wetaskiwin at the time of the crash.
Saddleback said the tight-knit communities are reeling.
"It's tough to lose one family member, but when you lose five from one community, words can't express."
Members of the volunteer Millet Fire Department were among the first responders at the scene. The department's public information officer, Trevor Palmer, said the team had to use the jaws of life to extract some of the victims.
The fire department responds to a lot of traffic collisions on the highways surrounding Millet. But Palmer said crews typically deal with fender benders or cars that have become stuck in the ditch.
"I'm 13 years with this fire department and it's less than six or seven [crashes] that are this kind of magnitude," he said.
The 12 volunteers who were at the scene were preparing for a debrief on Wednesday night.
"At the end of the day, whether you're a paid professional or a volunteer like we all are, no human being should have to see this kind of stuff and be involved in these kinds of incidents," Palmer said. "Those people who are on the scene will get an opportunity to talk through the entire incident and make sure everyone is aware of everything that went on out there so they don't leave anything in the back of their minds."
Early stages of investigation
RCMP, including a collision analyst, remained at the crash site for several hours before the highway was reopened Wednesday morning.
The five people who died were all in the same vehicle, said Wetaskiwin RCMP. The driver of the second vehicle, its lone occupant, suffered minor injuries and is being treated in hospital.
The two vehicles involved were a Pontiac Sunfire and an SUV, said Lambert. STARS air ambulance attended the scene but did not take anyone to hospital.
RCMP said they are in the early stages of their investigation.
On April 26, three people from the community were killed in a highway crash when a motorcycle collided with a northbound pickup truck on Highway 2A just north of the townsite.