BC Coroner releases report on 2010 Tofino paramedic deaths

The driver of an ambulance that plunged 33 metres into Kennedy Lake in 2010 likely fell asleep at the wheel, a BC Coroner's report noted. Two paramedics died in the accident.

Two coroner's reports into the incident note that driver Jo-Ann Fuller died after drowning in Kennedy Lake, while paramedic Ivan Polivka died from chest and head injuries.

The accident occurred at 5:20 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2010 on a winding part of Highway 4 near Kennedy Lake.

The ambulance drove over a concrete barrier then down an embankment into 10 metres of water. An RCMP collision specialist found no tire marks on the road indicating steering correction or braking. ā€œSpeed, falling rocks and weather were not contributing factors to this incident,ā€ the report noted.

Fuller, 59, and Polivka, 65, were paged to drive a patient from Tofino to Port Alberni. The pair had been off work for just five hours, the report showed. Fuller expressed concern about the arrangement with dispatch but it was determined that they would be the crew to transfer the patient.

When the pair returned from Port Alberni, Fuller was driving and Polivka was asleep in the back of the ambulance on a gurney when the accident happened, a measure that is against BC Ambulance policy. The ambulance was inspected and found to be in good condition with no defects.

As a result of the incident, the BC Ambulance Service made several recommendations to its management including advocating for higher roadside barriers, wearing seat belts when in the back of an ambulance and that ambulance personnel be advised of the driving hazards along Highway 4.

BCAS also determined ambulance personnel were working long hours with insufficient breaks and rest. Management and union officials committed to jointly review scheduling.

The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure made highway improvements along Highway 4 after the accident, the report said.

New 69 centimetre barriers have replaced the old ones which were smaller along the length of Kennedy Lake. And 86cm barriers bolted to concrete retaining walls have been installed at the crash site.

The ministry is also designing a 1.5 kilometre road re-alignment along the Kennedy Hill area. The design is expected to be completed in September.

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