A split second decision by a dump truck driver may have totaled his company’s vehicle, but it likely saved the life of drivers waiting in a construction queue on the Trans-Canada Highway near Goldstream Park on Monday morning.
Spencer Kwiatkowski was driving the Arbutus Excavating truck with a load of sand heading north towards Duncan around 10:30 a.m. on May 16. With a logging truck behind him and, as far as he could see, no traffic ahead of him, he headed into a notoriously dangerous twist in the highway, beyond Westshore Parkway just before it turns into the Malahat Drive.
“Everyone in the industry calls it suicide corner,” Kwiatkowski said.
A sign above the roadway flashes a warning to reduce speed to 60 kilometres per hour going into the turn, but Kwiatkowski says he typically takes the corner at about 45 km/h in the truck.
“I wasn’t going very fast,” he said.
But as he got around the corner he saw a line of cars stopped, waiting to pass a construction zone. He slammed on the breaks, but there wasn’t time to stop.
Instead of crashing into the waiting cars, he veered towards the ditch and slammed the truck into a rock wall. With him off the road, the logging truck behind him room to stop safely.
“I didn’t have much time to think, but I knew I didn’t want to hit those cars,” he said. “I’m a grandfather myself, and all I though was ‘what if there’s kids inside.'”
The Columbia Fuels truck that spilled over 40,000 litres of gasoline into the Goldstream River last month crashed due to driver error on the same sinuous stretch of highway, just a few kilometres north where it turns into the Malahat Drive.
The dump truck’s gas tank remained sealed in the crash. Kwiatkowski walked away from the incident with little more than a bruise on his knee and was back to work the next day. It was his first major accident in 25 years of professional driving.
The truck was removed from the ditch overnight on Monday and is being assessed to see if it’s salvageable or a total write off.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Kwiatkowski said, noting the incident might have been avoided if flaggers were further up the road warning people of the upcoming construction.
“The important thing is everyone’s alive.”