Stefan Junker has seen more than his fair share of cars skidding off River Road or flipping over into the water-filled ditch that runs parallel to the North Arm of the Fraser River in East Richmond.
However, last Monday morning was the worst one yet.
Junker — a landcaping manager who lives and works in rural River Road, east of Nelson Road – rushed, along with four co-workers, to the aid of a driver who had skidded on black ice right outside their front gate, flipped and landed upside down in the icy ditch.
When they arrived at the scene, another driver had stopped and was trying, in vain, to open one of the doors of the overturned, silver BMW, which was partly submerged in about three feet of ice-covered water.
The memories of the next few minutes, after Junker had waded thigh-deep into the frigid ditch, will live long in his mind.
“The horn was (blaring non-stop). One orange arm hung out of the small gap on the driver’s side window. It wasn’t moving at all…it wasn’t possible to reach (him) through the driver’s door,” he told the Richmond News.
“One co-worker rushed back to our shop and brought large pry bars…I stepped into the water and tried to gain access to the interior. But most of it...(was) under water.”
When the pry bars arrived, one of Junker’s colleagues climbed onto the car and tried to pry the door open from the top.
“We concentrated on the driver’s side back door, since it seemed to be the only one with a chance to open. The horn stopped working and emergency services arrived.”
After firefighters had extricated the male driver with the “jaws of life,” Junker and his colleagues climbed back onto the road, soaked and muddied, and watched as paramedics administered CPR to the victim.
“Our feelings were mixed afterwards,” Junker said. “When we talk or think about what happened, we...see this orange arm with the silver watch on it, dangling out of the window and I still can hear the sound of the horn.”
Richmond RCMP said on Thursday that the driver is still in critical condition and the accident is under investigation.
"Road of Death" has claimed four lives in four years
According to Richmond RCMP, there were 21 driving-related fatalities on Richmond’s roads, including that of cyclists and pedestrians, from 2013 to 2015.
However, in the last, eastern-most mile of River Road alone, there have been four driving-related deaths in recent years, one for each year from 2013 to 2016 (inclusive).
Standing over the scene of Monday’s drama, which is in the middle of said mile, Junker said he’s just about had enough of what he calls the “Road of Death.”
“People have to see how dangerous this part of the road is,” said Junker.
“From as far as I can see to the west, and to the east, cars are overtaking all the time when it’s not safe. I’ve been here for three years and it’s like this every day; it’s like a highway and people end up in the ditch all the time, almost every other day.”
Most come out of the ditch alive, “but some don’t,” added Junker, who said that, while the police were still dealing with Monday’s accident, a “lady was in a ditch at the other side,” pointing about 200 metres to the east.
“In Germany, we have traffic islands with stop or slow down signs. I hear people racing down here every night.
“(Monday) was definitely the worst one. And I won’t forget it.”
In light of the death of a cyclist — killed after a head-on collision with a car in November last year, just a kilometre east of Monday’s rollover — Mayor Malcolm Brodie told how the City of Richmond is currently analyzing the safety of the entire length of this section of River Road.
A report is expected to be presented soon by staff to city council.
Black ice came from nowhere: Workers
Junker said co-workers arriving at the yard at 7 a.m. on Monday spoke of no ice being on the road.
But by 8 a.m., he said another colleague had arrived saying the road outside the site was covered in black ice.
“Half an hour (before the accident), the road was fine. And half an hour (after the accident), it was fine. It was just a short moment in the morning where black ice appeared.”
According to other eye witnesses, even the emergency service vehicles arriving at the scene had trouble staying on the road.
Given that the accident is still being investigated, the City of Richmond wouldn’t comment on whether that section of River Road had been salted prior to Monday’s rollover.
However, city spokesperson Ted Townsend said, via email, that River Road is a “first priority route” within the city’s Snow Response Plan and, as such, “has been frequently brined and cleared throughout the recent extreme weather.
“Frequency of brining is subject to weather forecasts, road temperature monitoring, visual inspections and other analysis.”
Weather and road conditions, added Townsend, can “change quite rapidly as temperatures can fluctuate from above zero to below zero within minutes” and can “fluctuate as you move from one location to another, even within a relatively small area.”
Townsend said the city’s records show that there was a “rapid change in the road conditions on Monday morning.”
*The American Meteorological Society Glossary of Meteorology includes the definition of black ice as "a thin sheet of ice, relatively dark in appearance, (that) may form when light rain or drizzle falls on a road surface that is at a temperature below freezing.
Black ice may form even when the ambient temperature is several degrees above the freezing point of water, if the air warms suddenly after a prolonged cold spell that has left the surface of the roadway well below the freezing point temperature.
Nov. 6, 2016:
Cyclist Brad Dean dies and two more are serious injured after they are hit head-on by a car travelling east in the 23000 block of River Road, where it meets Westminster Highway.
Dec. 14, 2015:
A 47-year-old man dies after the car he was driving slams into the support pillars of a train trestle in the 20000 block of River Road.
Sept. 7, 2014:
A driver dies after his vehicle flips over in the 22100 block of River Road and lands upside down in the Fraser River.
July 17, 2013:
A vehicle carrying four occupants between the ages of 18 to 21 was travelling eastbound in the 22000 block of River Road when it collides with two power poles. The 18-year-old female driver dies.