OSHAWA, Ont. — When Adam Lowry pulled back the curtains of his bunk on the morning of April 18, there was nothing to indicate this would be the day everything changed. It was Good Friday, a cool but pleasant spring day and considering the winter Ontario had just endured, no one would complain.
Lowry awoke in his truck at the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop in Bowmanville, having delivered a load in Pickering the night before.
He did his pre-trip and headed to the village of Havelock, about 90 kilometres east, where he picked up a load destined for Alabama. Lowry was about to embark on one of his longer runs, which would keep him out on the road for four to six weeks. Coming back through Bowmanville, Lowry noticed the westbound scales were unstaffed, so he took advantage of the opportunity to check his axle weights. The CAT scales now cost about $15, so he uses the government-funded weigh scales whenever possible.
Lowry returned to the Fifth Wheel in Bowmanville, faxed in his paperwork and had lunch.
He would later wonder if all these small decisions he made throughout the day had somehow conspired to put him in the worst place at the worst possible time.
Leaving Bowmanville around 5 p.m., the Easter Weekend traffic thickened with travellers merging on and off the 401. Lowry stuck to the centre lane to avoid interactions with the car traffic. As he approached the Ritson St. exit he stayed in the centre lane, two hands on the wheel, listening to the radio for traffic updates. He moved with the flow of traffic, slightly below the posted speed limit of 100 km/h.
Ahead, Lowry noticed a man standing on the shoulder of the highway. He found it odd, but not alarming. Had he been in the right-hand lane, Lowry would have slowed down and moved into the centre lane. But since he was already there, he continued on. As he got closer, the man suddenly put his head down and charged into traffic, taking a beeline towards Lowry’s grille. Lowry immediately slammed the brakes but the impact was unavoidable.
Looking through a flesh- and blood-speckled windshield, Lowry somehow got the truck safely to the side of the road. Two thumps as he brought the truck to a stop indicated to him his truck had run over the body it had been dragging along the road. He would later be commended by police for his professional driving; had he swerved into the busy long weekend traffic, the end result could’ve been far more tragic. Parked, Lowry tried to call 911, but his fingers would not cooperate and they instead poked random digits. It mattered little, as an ambulance followed not far behind and first responders were quickly on the scene. Lowry’s first instinct was to inspect the truck for damage but witnesses and paramedics kept him from exiting the cab. It was now a crime scene after all, so police told him to stay put.
So Lowry sent a satellite message to his carrier Celadon, who immediately booked him a nearby hotel room so he’d have someplace to go. They would later send an employee from Kitchener to Lowry’s Welland home, to bring him his gear, as well as supplies and most importantly, some support. When the accident scene was secured, police guided Lowry from his truck, doing their best to shield him from the gore. Lowry sat at the side of the road sobbing and became upset when he noticed a crowd of onlookers had gathered on a nearby hill and were taking photos and video of the scene with their cell phones.
The police referred Lowry to Victim Services, which gave him a teddy bear. This small gesture moved him immensely.
“They were very nice to talk to,” Lowry told Truck News when recalling the events. “They even gave me a teddy bear and that made me cry because it showed people cared. Someone cared enough to donate these to Victim Services and someone cared enough to give one to me.”
That same night, Lowry vowed he’d never drive again.
What prompted an anonymous man to throw himself into the path of a semi remains a mystery, as does the man’s identity. Police appealed to the public for help in identifying the victim, but days later, they still had not confirmed his identity. He carried no identification and no one had reported him missing.
One thing that’s known for certain is there was more than one victim that Good Friday afternoon.
A week after the incident, Lowry was at home with his family, trying his best to come to terms with the events that happened a week earlier. He wanted to talk to Truck News because he has since learned that suicide by truck isn’t all that uncommon, and he wants others who have experienced it from behind the wheel to know they’re not alone. He also hopes people considering ending their life in such a manner may reconsider if they read about the effect their actions will have on the driver whose vehicle has been used as an instrument of suicide.
Lowry hasn’t driven a vehicle – not even his car – since the incident occurred. He loves trucking and doesn’t want it to end this way. But he admits he has a long way to go on the road to recovery. He takes consolation in the fact that paramedics and police told him the accident could’ve been much worse if he’d veered into the heavy Easter weekend traffic.
“The police told me by not freaking out, swerving or jackknifing, I didn’t take out any cars and I didn’t wipe out the whole highway. I kept control of my vehicle and got it safely off the road. They commended me for that and made me feel like I wasn’t a failure,” the soft-spoken Lowry said. “It wasn’t until Monday that I accepted that the gentleman killed himself and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Still, Lowry can’t help but question his own abilities. Throughout his 12-year driving career he took comfort in the thought that by doing everything safely and in accordance with the rules, that he could keep tragedy at bay. He’d done a thorough pre-trip – checked all his lights and tires – weighed his load to ensure he was in compliance, drove at or below the speed limit with two hands on the wheel and yet still, this happened. The idea he could do everything right and still have tragedy visited upon him shook him to his core.
“I was doing everything right and I couldn’t stop this man from dying. I thought that if I did everything by the book, as I did for 12 years, every day…” he said, his voice trailing off. “I no longer have that confidence. My best is not good enough to stop people from dying. He destroyed that view that my best would be enough.”
Asked if he’s angry with the man who caused all of this, Lowry admitted he was at first, but with the support of his family and church, learned forgiveness was the best reaction.
“I did have some anger,” Lowry said. “Yeah, I had anger. But I got over that quickly. I’ve forgiven him. I let the anger go.”
Instead, Lowry worries about the lasting impact this will have on his family and the other witnesses, including a mother and daughter who were among the first to arrive on the scene and had a front row view of the entire incident. He even heard that some of the first responders who attended the scene required counselling to help them deal with what they’d seen.
Lowry said he still harbours some resentment, but it’s directed at society, for allowing this man to slip through the cracks.
“I’m mad it got to the point he was on the highway. If he somehow could’ve been held in some institution, maybe he’d still be alive today,” Lowry said. “Maybe he needed diagnosis and treatment.”
But while Lowry chooses forgiveness over resentment, and determination over self-pity, he is grimly aware that his entire livelihood and his family’s wellbeing are threatened because of the events of April 18. He has been di
agnosed with an acute lower lumbar sprain resulting from the accident, and realizes he’ll need plenty of counselling and therapy – both mental and physical. He’ll be off the job for a while and will rely on Employment Insurance and WSIB to get him by. He’s grateful his employment benefits include several visits with a psychologist and his wife’s will cover ongoing counselling.
He knows recovery will be a long road. He’d suffered three flashbacks the day he spoke to Truck News and it was only mid-afternoon.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself but what this man did has set me and my family back (financially) by a number of months,” Lowry said.
Nonetheless, he’s determined to bounce back.
“Each day that passes, I cry less and choke up less when I tell the story or have a flashback,” Lowry said. “Family is so important. Friends have come over for coffee. The ladies at the church have brought over meals. I feel like I’m getting lots of support and I think that’s making a really big difference.”
Just one week after the incident, Lowry had decided he would, in fact, resume his driving career.
“Yes, I do think I will drive again,” he told Truck News. “The first night, I didn’t think I could. By Sunday, I didn’t want to. But I know that it has always been my dream. It’s a good enough job to pay the bills and I also love doing it and I thought, I can’t let this man take my life too.”
Lowry has set a personal goal. His daughter’s birthday is on the Victoria Day weekend, which this year falls on May 17-19. Lowry would like to return to work that weekend, after her birthday – at least to chat with the dispatchers, see the new truck Celadon has promised him and to load up his gear. If it feels right, he’ll head back out on the road. If he’s not yet ready, he’ll wait. Celadon has told him to take as long as he needs.
“A lot of it will depend on how it goes with the psychologist,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m good to go. But if I don’t set a goal, it won’t happen.”
Lowry hopes his life will once again return to normal and that he’ll be able to resume the career he loves. He hopes that talking about the incident will bring closure and raise awareness about the impact suicide by truck has on others. But he’s also painfully aware the events of April 18 will stay with him forever.