VANCOUVER — Spencer Kwiatkowski is always cautious at “Suicide Corner” on the notorious Malahat Highway on Vancouver Island, but sometimes even cutting your speed nearly in half is not slow enough.
One day last month, as Kwiatkowski’s rig rounded the curve, loaded with 14 tones of sand and gravel, he saw just a few feet in front of him a line of cars and trucks backed up from road construction further below. He knew he wasn’t going to stop in time, so he did the only he could to save lives.
He pulled hard to the right and drove his truck into the rock wall.
The accident, near the entrance to Goldstream Provincial Park, totalled the truck, a 2006 Sterling belonging to Arbutus Excavating of Saanich, BC. And he himself was lucky to get out of the cab without injury. But he knows it was the right thing to do.
“It was the only thing I could do without hurting somebody,” says Kwiatkowski, who has about 25 years of driving in his logbooks.
“I was taking it slow,” he says, “but, you know, you’re always on pins and needles when you come around that corner. You never know what you’re going to find.”
He’s not sure how much damage he would have done if he hadn’t taken his rig off the road.
“I’m not sure it saved lives. There was a little Honda in front of me. I would have bumped him pretty good. It would be like a cue ball on a table, I suppose,” he says.
But the bigger danger was behind him, where a fully loaded logging truck would also have had precious little room to stop if he didn’t get out of the way.
“He had to work at it, but he stopped,” says Kwiatkowski. “I gave him some more grace room. It would have been nip and tuck.”
RCMP Const. Chris Dovell, the investigating officer, says from what he saw, Kwiatkowski probably saved lives by taking evasive action.
“The correction action he took may well have saved lives. He made a good decision in a very bad circumstance,” he says. “And there were people on the scene who commended him, particularly a guy in a logging truck, who said he couldn’t have done anything else and he likely saved people’s lives.”
Dovell says the curve is notoriously dangerous and has been called Suicide Corner for over a decade. Indeed, a centre barrier was erected years ago to eliminate the head-on collisions that were claiming so many lives.
Not long ago, a double-tandem fuel tanker went off the road in that area, causing an environmental spill. It was the clean-up from that accident which caused the backup on the day Kwiatkowski came around the corner.
He says the ABS brakes kicked in, so his rig didn’t skid.
“It’s just a bad corner. In October another gravel truck went into the rock at the same place I did. The driver came and talked to me about it. He told me about another truck that had to stop quick and his trailer went sidewise, so he bumped the rocks too. And I talked to another guy who just about had the same experience about a week later. Same kind of situation,” he says.
“They’ve got a flashing sign to remind you to watch your speed, but if you’re not prepared for stopped cars, then, yeah, you’ve got an issue.”
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