Saskatoon

Scene of Broncos crash haunted Sask. truckers for decades

The Humboldt Broncos crashed at the same intersection where, in 1997, Rod Fiddler and five of his family members died.

'It never leaves you': Truckers remember 1997 fatal crash at the same intersection

Rod Fiddler with his children, left to right, Jocelyn and Jasmine, and wife Terri. Kassandre, who was one month old in the crash, is not pictured. (Submitted by Norine Wark)

The intersection where a semi-trailer and the Humboldt Broncos' team bus collided on Friday is a dangerous one, according to truckers who use it regularly.

Werner Moellenbeck drove through it on Friday, two hours prior to the hockey team's fatal crash.

'As soon as you get close to that area, right away you thought of it,' said Jim Kuervers, who retired from trucking two years ago. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

He said the crash brought back memories of watching helplessly as a family of six perished in the same place 21 years ago.

"There's no words to describe the aftermath of a cleanup like that," said Moellenbeck, who has spent 49 years driving trucks, and who lives near St. Gregor, Sask.

"It never leaves you; it has a huge impact on a person forever," he said.

In 1997, the RCMP said the six people riding in this pickup truck died immediately on impact after crashing into a grain truck at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335. (CBC)

6 family members died crossing the same intersection in 1997 

In June 1997, Moellenbeck and Jim Kuervers were driving semi-trailers from Nipawin, Sask., south along Highway 35. 

He didn't even realize the stop signs were there.- Jim Kuervers, retired truck driver

Kuervers remembered seeing a man driving a pickup truck on Highway 335, approaching the intersection at full speed.

"He didn't even realize the stop signs were there," said Kuervers.

The pickup truck collided with the grain truck Kuervers was driving, hit the ditch, then burst into flames.

That crash killed Rod Fiddler, 33; his wife, Terri Lynne Fiddler, 30; and their children Jocelyn, 4; Jasmine, 3; and Kassandre, one month.

The girls' aunt, 26-year-old Wendy Lou Fiddler, also died in the crash.

'Something that you never, ever forget'

"You stand there very helplessly. There's nothing you can do," said Moellenbeck, who said even the fire extinguisher in his truck would have been useless. "You can't even get close to it."

Kuervers was too shaken to drive home that night.
An aerial view of wreckage from the Broncos crash at the intersection of Highway 335 and Highway 35 on Saturday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Moellenbeck drove him home, a drive he remembered as being "very, very quiet."

"You don't know what to say," said Moellenbeck. "It's something that you never, ever forget."

Intersection saw some improvements

Highway officials later added a flashing red light at the intersection, and tore down a service station on the corner where the Broncos' bus came to rest Friday.

Moellenbeck said installing flashing LED lights around the octagon of the stop sign would make it far more visible, even in inclement weather.

"They're very, very distinct from a long ways away," he said.

"The old style of stop sign with just a red flashing light sometimes is very hard to see from a distance, especially if it's foggy out or a cloudy day, you know, it's just hard to distinguish," Moellenbeck said.

Guilt, anguish over Fiddler family deaths haunted Kuervers for years

Police ruled Kuervers was not at fault. Still, the now-retired trucker told CBC it took him years to get over the feelings of guilt and anguish.

He said rumble strips or speed bumps would also alert drivers to the intersection, especially those unfamiliar with the area.

Kuervers and his wife Lorna were at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Humboldt preparing for a pancake breakfast when their son texted them about the hockey team's crash.

"You think of everything right away. It went through my mind like it did 21 years ago," said Kuervers. who felt sympathy for the driver of the semi-trailer.

"You think to yourself: maybe there was something I could have done to prevent this," he said.

"But once it happens, it's too late."

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