Hamilton

'Everyone is furious': Parents of those killed on the Red Hill weighing legal options

Scar tissue has been slowly forming for the family of Jordyn Hastings, who died in a car crash on the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) nearly four years ago. And Thursday morning, the wound was opened again.

'Their apologies don't mean anything,' says a mom who's asked for upgrades to the Red Hill and Linc

Olivia Smosarski and Jordyn Hastings died in a crash on the Red Hill Valley Parkway in 2015. It happened between Greenhill Avenue and King Street exits, where a high number of collisions happen. (Jordyn Hastings/Facebook)

Scar tissue has been slowly forming for the family of Jordyn Hastings, who died in a car crash on the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) nearly four years ago. But  Thursday morning, the wound was opened again.

That's when the Hastings family — and the families of other "angels" who have died on the highway — learned the city has been covering up a report showing asphalt on the highway is below safety standards.

Léony deGraaf Hastings, Jordyn's step mom, says the families have insisted for years there were problems with the highway. Now they're considering legal action.

The city treated them "like we were idiots," she said. "Like we didn't know what we were talking about and were just grasping at straws to blame someone other than our children."

And today, she said, "everyone is furious."

The news comes after a bombshell announcement late Wednesday that a 2013 report about the slipperiness of the highway was kept from city council. The report said the friction of the asphalt on the 12-year-old highway was below acceptable standards.

City staff apologized to the public "for how this matter came to our attention." Councillors immediately voted to lower the speed limit to 80 km/h from 90, and to plan millions in safety upgrades. That includes lighting, barriers and medians, and expediting asphalt upgrades.

With this new information, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, people can decide for themselves if they want to drive on the highway, but pointed out that collisions happen for multiple reasons. 

The city has already done millions in upgrades to the highway, and have millions more planned, including upgrading the asphalt. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Gord McGuire, the city's new director of engineering, uncovered the report on the city network in September. It was in a locked folder specifically accessible to the director of engineering, said Dan McKinnon, the city's general manager of public works.

It's not clear who had seen it prior, only that the city commissioned Tradewind Scientific, via Golder Associates, to do it in 2013. Golder submitted it in early 2014.

Gary Moore was director of engineering then, and has since moved on to be a technical lead on the city's light-rail transit project. Moore and others will be interviewed as part of a two-month review by the city's auditor to determine how and why the report was kept under wraps.

McKinnon said the decision not to share the report likely wasn't nefarious, just a "professional judgment call" about its importance. The city has gotten several professional opinions over the years about the highways.

How it was found

When McKinnon and other staff heard about the report, they hired CIMA+ consulting to do a follow up. CIMA+ concluded the Red Hill meets safety standards, but is not as safe as the Lincoln Alexander Parkway.

City staff presented both reports to city council behind closed doors Wednesday. That means there was a five-month lag.

McKinnon said between October's municipal election and preparing the 2019 budget, "we had several challenges getting it to council."

Treena Williams, left, and Kim Lackie are the mothers of Kristine Williams and Aaron Haire, two teenagers who died in a crash on the Lincoln Alexander Parkway in 2014. They were part of a 2017 delegation urging the city to put barriers and medians on the Linc and Red Hill. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"This is going to be an unsatisfying answer, but the reality is we were just really busy."

City collision stats show there have were 862 crashes on the Red Hill from 2013 to 2017, and crashes increased 51 per cent over five years. Four of those were fatal. On the Linc, there were 711 in that time, and two were fatal.

'A nightmare' council meeting

Of the Red Hill collisions, 53 per cent happened when it was raining.

DeGraaf Hastings was among four families who pleaded with city council in 2017 to improve both highways.

"We all felt disrespected," said deGraaf Hastings. As she was speaking, one councillor "leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head as if he was stretching out to take a nap."

That council meeting was "a nightmare," said Treena Williams, whose daughter Kristine Williams died on the Linc with boyfriend Aaron Haire in 2015. Like Jordyn, Kristine was 19.

This morning, deGraaf Hastings said brought "shock and disbelief that something this important could be buried so long."

Apology was necessary, Horwath says

"This is something that we've been fighting for, and they made us feel like they were just kind of entertaining us by listening to us, just sort of going through the motions."

"Each day, you build up another layer of scar tissue but it's all broken down when things like this come to the surface."

To families who have lost loved ones on the highway, "an apology was absolutely necessary," said Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre NDP MPP and leader of Ontario's official opposition.

"The fact that there was a warning report hidden all this time is shocking," Horwath tweeted. "Time to get this road fixed and make it safe."

Donna Skelly, a Flamborough-Glanbrook PC MPP, was a city councillor from 2016 to 2018.

'Their apologies don't mean anything'

"There were many, many requests for information and concerns brought to public works about the safety on that road and this was never raised," she said. 

"I can't understand why there was so much opposition to checking the pavement. It was raised on so many occasions."

Williams said the families of people killed on the Linc and Red Hill are a sort of support group now. They call their lost loved ones "the angels." And they've all been talking today.

The millions in upgrades planned to the Linc makes Williams wonder if there's more to that story too. "They were always trying to put the fault back on us," she said of the city.

"I almost feel like this is an 'I told you so' moment. Their apologies don't mean anything."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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