Deadly Ontario crash caused by van driver's error

The driver of a van involved in a crash that killed 11 people in southwestern Ontario on Monday failed to obey a stop sign and was not licensed to carry his passengers, police say.

Van driver ran stop sign and was not properly licensed

Enrique Leon is mourned by members of his family in Peru. Leon is one of 10 migrant workers who died when the van he was riding in was hit by a truck in southwestern Ontario. (La Republica)

The driver of a van involved in a crash that killed 11 people Monday in southwestern Ontario ran through a stop sign and did not have the proper driver's licence for the number of passengers he was carrying, the Ontario Provincial Police said Wednesday.

The crash between a passenger van carrying 13 farm workers and a Freightliner truck happened Monday afternoon at the intersection of Perth County Road 107 and Line 47, about 40 kilometres west of Kitchener, Ont.

Police said Wednesday the passenger van's driver, who was travelling westbound on Line 47, failed to obey a stop sign just before being struck by the southbound truck, which had the right of way.

"It was this action that caused the collision," OPP Insp. Scott Lawson told reporters on Wednesday.

The horrific crash threw the van more than 40 metres, killing its driver and nine passengers. Of the three van passengers who survived the crash, two are in critical condition.

The driver of the truck was also among those killed.

Lawson said any vehicle that carries more than 11 passengers requires a class F driver's licence, a higher classification than the class G licence held by Blancas-Hernandez.

The men riding in the van were migrant workers from Peru who were leaving work at a nearby poultry farm at the time of the crash.

The OPP released the names of those killed and injured in the crash. They are:

  • David Armando Blancas-Hernandez, 45, the driver of the van.
  • Jose Mercedes Valdiviezo-Taboa, 49.
  • Cesar Augusto Sanchez-Palacios, 53.
  • Enrique Atturo Leon, 47.
  • Corsino Jaramillo, 47.
  • Mario Abril, 48.
  • Oscar Compomanes-Corzo, age unknown.
  • Juan Castillo, age unknown.
  • Elvio Bravo-Suncion, age unknown.
  • Fernando Correa, age unknown.

The van passengers who survived the crash are:

  • Edgar Sulla-Puma, 26. He was air-lifted to Hamilton hospital and is in critical condition.
  • Juan Ariza, 35. He is in critical condition at Stratford General Hospital.
  • Abetardo Alba-Medina, 38. He was taken to Stratford General Hospital by ambulance after the crash, then later transferred to London Health Sciences Centre, where he is in fair condition.

Christopher Fulton, 38, of London, Ont., was driving the truck.

CBC’s Steven D’Souza reported Wednesday that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board will pay medical expenses for families of the workers and survivors. WSIB will also cover costs of repatriating the bodies to Peru.

OPP Chief Supt. John Cain said the crash highlights the need for drivers to remain aware at the wheel.

"This crash did not have to happen and these lives need not have been lost," he said. "Driver error is the largest contributing factor to collisions in Ontario.

"This tragedy underscores the importance of maintaining safe driving practices at all times. As we’ve seen tragically in this case, failure to follow the rules of the road can have a regrettable impact on lives."

Driver helped pull bodies out

A driver who was first on the scene of Monday's crash relayed his story to the CBC.

Rick Sherwood, 45, was following the truck that collided with the van that was carrying the 13 workers. Driving a tractor-trailer south on Highway 107, he saw the truck briefly over the top of an incline, and said, "It didn't look right."

The crash on Monday in Hampstead, Ont., killed 11 people. Ten were migrant workers from Peru working at nearby poultry farms. (David Ritchie/CBC)

It went out of view, and then when Sherwood came up over the top of the rise in the road, he could see the full horror of what had happened.

The six-wheeled vehicle — not a flatbed as initially reported, but by then the box had been crushed — had struck the van, killing 11.

Sherwood currently drives a truck one day a week and works as a therapist and motivational speaker

His 911 call alerted emergency crews at 4:51 p.m. ET, reported, and he was the first to check for signs of life among passengers and drivers.

He found the truck driver dead and signs of life in only two people in the van. He helped remove the bodies, and said he couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had he been there only seconds earlier.

"The thing that lingers in my mind is, 'How many almosts can I have?'"

Speaking from his home in Stratford, Ont., on Wednesday, Sherwood said that since the accident, he had slept only six hours. Still, he is continually being thrown back to the elements of his therapy practice.