Dennis Saulnier rescued his daughters, two-year-old Brinley (left) and four-year-old Keegan, after their truck was driven off the road and into Cultus Lake on May 16. They are seen here with wife and mom, Rianna, at their home on June 2, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Dennis Saulnier rescued his daughters, two-year-old Brinley (left) and four-year-old Keegan, after their truck was driven off the road and into Cultus Lake on May 16. They are seen here with wife and mom, Rianna, at their home on June 2, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Chilliwack dad rescues two young daughters after truck plunges into lake

“I used every single one of my angels that day,” said Dennis Saulnier

A Chilliwack man who was driven off the road by an alleged drunk driver miraculously saved his own life and the lives of his two young daughters after his truck plunged into Cultus Lake.

Dennis Saulnier was driving eastbound along Columbia Valley Road near the Jade Bay boat launch on Saturday, May 16 with four-year-old Keegan and two-year-old Brinley. They were on their way to pick up dinner and ice cream.

A man driving a light-coloured sedan sped up behind him.

“He was on my tailgate so close I couldn’t see him in the rearview,” Saulnier said.

The driver tried to overtake Saulnier once, but he nearly collided with another vehicle before pulling back in behind Saulnier’s 2008 Ford F-350.

The second time he pulled out, Saulnier swerved right to avoid getting clipped. His tires caught gravel so he started to brake, but then the truck started to spin toward the mountain.

He turned the wheel to the left and gave it a bit of gas. Nothing happened for a second, and then suddenly the truck snapped forward and the next thing he saw was the briny, green water through his windshield.

Dennis Saulnier’s truck is hauled out of Cultus Lake on May 17, 2020, the day after it went into the water. (Dennis Saulnier)

Dennis Saulnier’s truck is hauled out of Cultus Lake on May 17, 2020, the day after it went into the water. (Dennis Saulnier)

When the truck hit the water, he immediately unbuckled his seatbelt and spun around to face Keegan and Brinley.

“I told them to relax,” he recalled. The truck’s nose began sinking into the cold, murky water.

Within seconds he unbuckled Keegan’s carseat and then Brinley’s.

By now he was waist-deep in water, and he could see they were dropping fast and when he looked up he could see light through the sunroof.

With one blow, he punched his fist straight through the sunroof.

“As soon as that happened, it was like an explosion inside.”

• READ MORE: Two men recognized for rescue of teens trapped in a water-filled Chilliwack ditch

• READ MORE: VIDEO: ‘Heroes’ rescue teenager trapped in vehicle in water-filled ditch in Chilliwack

The door seals broke. Windows shattered. Water came gushing in.

He closed his eyes and held onto the driver and passenger seats to prevent getting sucked out of the sunroof. When he opened his eyes a second later, all he could see was the cloudy, green lake water.

The girls were gone.

“That was the first moment of panic I had when I couldn’t physically see or feel my girls.”

He reached out and felt the roof, doors, seat and floor multiple times, but he felt nothing.

“I was scared to leave. What if they were still in the vehicle?”

He realized he was running out of air. But as he tried to swim through the sunroof, his leg was caught. He reached down to untangle himself, and slipped through the hole in the sunroof.

When he broke the surface, there was debris but no splashing. He couldn’t hear any crying. The girls must be trapped in the cab, he thought, fighting the panic.

If they were still under water he knew he had one minute to save them.

He took a quick breath and dove back down. About 10 feet down he realized hadn’t taken a big enough breath so he resurfaced.

As he was about to go back under, he spotted Brinley’s ponytail about 10 feet in front of him.

He quickly swam and grabbed her. She clung to him and cried: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

Where was Keegan?

He scanned the water. He swam toward a shape. As he got closer, he saw a pair of eyes. It was Keegan.

The scene on May 16, 2020 where Dennis Saulnier’s truck plunged into Cultus Lake near Jade Bay Boat Launch. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

The scene on May 16, 2020 where Dennis Saulnier’s truck plunged into Cultus Lake near Jade Bay Boat Launch. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

He was just five feet from reaching her when she went under the water. She opened eyes wide as she started to sink, but he grabbed her and pulled her to the surface.

He had to get to shore. A large crowd of people had gathered at Jade Bay boat launch, people were on the water on jet-skis, but no one jumped in to help.

So Saulnier tucked Brinley under his right arm and started throwing Keegan towards the shore a few feet at a time while doing a sidestroke before grabbing her again.

He did it repeatedly until he was utterly exhausted.

“Every time I threw, it felt like I was going under water more and more.”

When he was about 10 feet from the shore, a man finally helped by grabbing and holding onto Keegan. When she got to the rocks and was out of the lake she puked up a bunch of water.

Saulnier calls the entire incident “miraculous.”

No one was injured.

“I used every single one of my angels that day,” he said, admitting he has aways been afraid of deep, murky water.

They were later told by RCMP that the driver was drunk and caught by police at a road block set up near Main Beach and is accused of impaired driving and failing to remain at the scene of a collision, said Saulnier’s wife Rianna.

RCMP were notified of the erratic driver by another motorist who was also passed unsafely by him. That same driver who called about the allegedly impaired driver also told RCMP that he saw Saulnier’s truck go in the water.

While RCMP couldn’t comment on any charges, they did confirm that a 43-year-old man from Popkum was stopped and taken into custody. The investigation is being forwarded to BC Prosecution Service, said Cpl. Mike Rail.

The next day, the truck, which had sank 12 metres and rested on a rock, was pulled out of the water. Had the truck not been on that rock, it would have sunk about another 20 metres into much more frigid water. (See photos below)

More than two weeks after the collision, Keegan and Brinley are understandably still traumatized. It’s an ordeal to get them into the car, they’re scared driving at 10 kilometres an hour on their own street, and when a car passes them on the highway they get upset.

They used to go to the lake every day, but not anymore.

The Saulniers are considering therapy for their daughters which, at their age, is done through play. Right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, that therapy is not available. They’ve seen their daughters re-enact underwater rescues while playing with their dolls and toys.

As for Dennis, the first two days after the incident were hard. He was tormented by the “what ifs.” But once he accepted the fact that everything worked out OK, that’s when his mental state returned to normal.

”If I wasn’t able to stay calm in hairy situations like that, I think it would have been a different outcome for sure,” Saulnier said. “I still get to hold my girls and nothing is worth more than that.”


 

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on?
Email: jenna.hauck@theprogress.com
Twitter: @PhotoJennalism

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Cultus Lake

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Port Alberni city hall. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Port Alberni adopts tax increase below 4% for 2021

Financial plan looks for balance between residents, industry

Police cordoned off the block of Fifth Avenue from Burde Street to Bute Street in front of the Phoenix House sobering centre in the early-morning hours of Sunday, April 4, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Port Alberni stabbing suspect arrested in Nanaimo

Man was also in possession of fentanyl: RCMP

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
(NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Port Alberni postpones organics collection to September 2021

Collection carts will be stored at Port Alberni Port Authority terminal

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

Greater Victoria had more new cases than any other Island area: B.C. Centre for Disease Control

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read