'Plant the trees': Former coroner fears more deaths on Highway 40

"It's as if their deaths were not important for the ministry," said former coroner René Duval.

Minister says site of pileup will get extra foliage to reduce danger from snow squalls

About 40 people were treated for minor injuries in Sunday's pileup in Saint-Sulpice, about 20 kilometres east of Montreal. (Mathieu Wagner/Radio-Canada)

Transport Minister François Bonnardel says the government will plant trees along a stretch of westbound Highway 40 that was the site of a major collision yesterday that injured 40.

The announcement comes after a former Quebec coroner criticized the government for gaps in the tree line, more than a decade after a 76-car pileup on the same road killed a father and daughter.

Both pileups, about 500 metres apart, took place during snow squalls that reduced visibility on the road to near-zero.

Bonnardel said the planting of trees will be done in "the most dangerous areas" on the stretch of highway between Joliette and Repentigny.

On Sunday, a pileup involving about 150 vehicles stopped traffic for hours about 20 kilometres east of Montreal. Some 40 people were treated for minor injuries.

"Yesterday, again we were lucky, but last time there was a loss of two lives," said René Duval, who is now a private lawyer.

Sylvain Lafrenière and his daughter Daphnée Perreault-Lafrenière died from their injuries in the 2006 pileup. (Submitted by Line Perreault)

The former coroner wrote in his report at the time that wind picks up speed in the fields surrounding the stretch of road, drastically reducing visibility during periods of heavy snowfall.

A spokesperson for Transports Québec said a wind-breaking hedge was planted in 2009 at the scene of the fatal pileup, and that the ministry is looking at additional measures to improve the safety of Highway 40, east of Montreal.

On Feb. 17, 2006, 41-year-old Sylvain Lafrenière was driving on Highway 40 when a snow squall hit the area. According to Duval's report, Lafrenière's vehicle was near the end of the pileup.

The report says Lafrenière almost immediately reduced his speed when the snow squall hit, and that he attempted to change lanes to avoid vehicles ahead of him.

Former coroner René Duval is worried more people will die before Transports Québec follows his recommendation from 13 years ago. (Radio Canada)

He struck a stopped car in the left lane, and was then struck twice from the rear.

The weather was determined as the main cause of death, with winds blowing between 43 and 67 km/h.

Lafrenière was pronounced dead the same day. His 11-year-old daughter, Daphnée Perreault-Lafrenière, died from her injuries a day later in Montreal's Sainte-Justine Hospital.

Duval hopes the latest pileup serves as a wake-up call before more people die on the highway.

"It's very simple, follow the recommendation," he said. "Plant the trees."

With files from Radio-Canada

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