A 68-year-old Brandon man died Thursday when his minivan slammed into the back of a parked semi just west of Kemnay on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway, police say.
He was the only person in the van when the crash happened, police said.
His identity is not being released.
Police say that the cause of the collision is still under investigation.
Eyewitnesses Keith Muckler and his wife Jo-Ann Marcoux were driving east on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Brandon, shortly after 1 p.m. on Thursday when they saw that a vehicle had collided with the back of a semi truck trailer that had parked in a turnout on the north side of the highway.
"There’s no scenery here, I’m a truck driver, I happen to see the truck parked on the side of the road, no problem, we’re passing by and just as I get near the tail end… I noticed there’s something there and I saw a vehicle underneath the trailer of the truck and it wasn’t there earlier," Muckler said. "Apparently the truck driver had been sleeping and, this vehicle at highway speed, ran right into the back of the trailer."
Muckler, a truck driver who works in Edmonton, was driving with his wife to their home in Ontario when they saw the accident. After noticing the crash, Muckler turned their SUV around and drove towards the accident. By that time a patrol officer was already on scene and the semi truck driver had gotten out of the cab of his truck to see what had happened.
"The (semi truck) driver said he was sleeping and then got knocked out of his bunk onto the floor," Marcoux said. "He’s got a few scratches, he thought his trailer exploded or something."
Those on scene tried to make out how many passengers were inside the van that was wedged halfway beneath the trailer. Muckler said he tried to help emergency crews see if they could find a body inside.
"None of us could see a body, we decided to look, we were looking inside but couldn’t see anything there," he said. "We continued to search... with the assistance of a flashlight we started looking in and saw points of blood so finally I was able to get in far enough, saw some blood and actually touched a body."
By that time local fire and paramedics were on scene and Muckler said a firefighter opened the back door, reached in and was able to confirm that there was one body inside the minivan.
RCMP, fire and emergency crews were still investigating the fatal collision and by late afternoon, the cause of the crash had not been confirmed. An RCMP traffic analyst was also assisting at the scene. RCMP said more information will be released as the investigation continues.
However, Muckler suggested that the driver may have been on the way home from work, still wearing blue coveralls, and fell asleep at the wheel.
"I’m assuming from my experience… from what I could tell it looks to me like it’s a person probably coming home from work, tired, because they still have their fire retardant coveralls on, so they didn’t change, and wanted to go home and possibly fell asleep at the wheel," he said. "He probably fell asleep and tire tracks in the street just kind of directed him into the semi trailer."
He also believes the driver was doing highway speed when he rammed into the back of the truck trailer.
"He was doing highway speed when he hit because if you look at the back of the trailer how it’s pushed forward… how it’s blown out and the bumper underneath, you’d have to go at a high rate of speed to make that happen."
Emergency crews had to use a crane to help lift the trailer off the minivan so that they could continue their investigation and extract the driver.
Being a truck driver himself with many years of experience, Muckler said weight scale stations like this one are supposed to serve as a "safety net" for drivers.
"For the truck drivers this is one reason why these things are here so that they can pull over," he said. "They’re right off of the highway and it’s supposed to be a safe haven place for trucks to get off the road and for the driver to stop safely and sleep."
He added that he thinks accidents like this one are a perfect example of why tired drivers should always pull over.
"This is a good poster to show why you should pull over and have a sleep and not try to rush home after work."
— Brandon Sun