The driver of a pickup truck that burst into flames following a head-on collision on Highway 4 on top of the Hump (Alberni Summit) is alive thanks to the quick actions of a couple of bystanders.
Derek Eves was on his way to work with Collins Electric on the east side of Vancouver Island when he came upon the accident, which happened shortly after 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 12, just west of the Loon Lake turnoff.
A pickup truck heading eastbound lost control on the icy road and crossed the centre line, colliding with an SUV heading west on Highway 4.
“I came around a corner and it had just happened,” Eves said. “Initially, I just ran up to the truck. The minute I got to the truck I saw the hood was on fire.”
The driver’s side door was jammed, so Eves reached across the passenger side to undo the driver’s seatbelt and began pulling him across the seats. “His arm was completely shattered. He had a shoulder injury, a chest injury…he was in pretty good shock.”
Nick Labadie, a BC Hydro worker, assisted Eves in pulling the driver out of the truck. The driver of the SUV that had also been involved in the collision ran around to the passenger side of the truck to help free the man’s foot, which was jammed.
“He had a broken leg already so his left foot had a boot on it,” Eves said. “It got caught on the steering wheel.”
He said the driver of the SUV’s quick thinking saved them all from being burned. “Ten seconds and it would have been a different story.”
Port Alberni Fire Dept. chief Mike Owens credits one of the accident victims with saving the life of another caught in a burning vehicle.
“The pickup truck caught fire after it was impacted,” Owens said. “The driver of the SUV, which was heavily damaged, got out and climbed into the pickup truck (along with) two bystanders to pull the guy out of the truck. They saved the guy’s life.
“They’re definitely the heroes today.”
“The fire was made more difficult because there was a rupture to the truck’s fuel tank, which was feeding the fire.”
Fire engines from Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Dept. and Port Alberni responded to the crash, as well as two ambulances from Port Alberni. Both engines used all the water they had in their trucks to extinguish the blaze.
Both drivers were single occupants in their vehicles, and both were taken to hospital, one in stable condition and the driver of the pickup truck in serious condition with non life-threatening injuries.
Eves, an Army reservist with 39 Signal Regiment, has driven trucks for the military in Canada and overseas. He has taken tactical combat casualty training, and his instincts
“We train to get people out of the vehicle, just like that,” he said.
A BC Emergency Health Services spokesperson said two ambulances were dispatched from Port Alberni and reached the scene within 13 minutes. An off-duty paramedic specialist from the Lower Mainland was also on scene within minutes and assisted.
The accident closed Highway 4 in both directions for a couple of hours. The road was reopened shortly after 9 a.m.