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Woman dies after runaway SUV crashes into hair salon

Young mother removed from life-support 3 days after 2012 Jeep Liberty plowed into business

Posted: 04/11/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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As a family mourns the death of a young mother, police are still trying to determine why a driver lost control of his SUV, sped through a busy intersection and crashed into a hair salon Saturday.

Kendall Wiebe, 27, was taken off life-support Tuesday, three days after a 2012 Jeep Liberty plowed into the salon, which is part of the Crestview Shopping Centre at Portage Avenue and Cavalier Drive.

Police have not determined what caused the crash. Their investigation is continuing and charges could be pending against the 32-year-old male driver of the Jeep. Drugs and alcohol are not considered factors in the crash.

"I think this is not something that we typically see, especially with the speed and the damage that was caused," said Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman Const. Natalie Aitken. She said the SUV didn't appear to hit anything as it sped through the strip mall's parking lot north of Portage Avenue.

"Right now, anything to do with that vehicle or how it was travelling prior to it coming to rest at that business is something that we would be looking at," said Aitken. "So certainly, any mechanical evidence that we can gain from that vehicle is ongoing and that will take quite some time to progress through."

On Tuesday, Wiebe's family released a statement to Global News acknowledging her death with "extreme sadness of heart."

"We are encouraged by the prayer support we are receiving from our immediate families, friends, extended communities and general public," wrote the Wiebe and Cancilla families. "We are further encouraged by the ongoing investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service team to find the true cause for this senseless incident, in the hope that other families might not have to experience such a tragic loss."

The family also thanked police, emergency crews, hospital staff and witnesses, especially the witness who immediately called 911.

The family said Wiebe's organs and tissues had been made available for donation.

Wiebe leaves behind a daughter, as well as a partner and his children.

"She was a wonderful mother, very outgoing, genuinely kind," said a relative of Wiebe's, who did not want her name used. She said Wiebe worked as a hairstylist for more than five years and was the mother to a four-year-old daughter, Brynn.

The family, which has roots in Rosenfeld, a small community about 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg, is reeling from the death.

A trust fund has been set up for Wiebe's children -- Brynn, Bryce, 9, and Meagan, 13 -- at Assiniboine Credit Union under the Kendall Wiebe/Cancilla Memorial Fund. People can donate at any of ACU's 25 branches.

Some have speculated the SUV accelerated uncontrollably, but a CAA Manitoba official said such an event is extremely rare.

Tom Mark, CAA Manitoba's vice-president of automotive services, said aside from a well-publicized issue associated with Toyota a few years ago, it doesn't happen.

"An uncontrolled acceleration is very uncommon," Mark said.

"After the problem with Toyota, I'm just not aware of any other incident and I don't believe there was a definitive explanation for what happened to the Toyota vehicles."

There have been reports of floor mats in a variety of makes of automobiles sliding up and under the gas pedal and causing the gas pedal to stick.

However, there have been no recalls of Jeep Liberty vehicles that involved sudden and uncontrolled acceleration.

Transport Canada has reported recalls of the Jeep Liberty that involved a variety of other problems: Some of the 2010 and 2007 models were recalled because of the potential for braking issues that could lead to accidents; and some 2002/03 models were recalled because of the potential for a loss of steering control that could lead to accidents.

Investigators may have other avenues to pursue to find an explanation for the crash.

According to an online version of the 2012 Jeep Liberty manual, the vehicle has an event data recorder that records how far a brake or accelerator was pressed down and how fast the vehicle was going.

Event data recorders collect the information when crashes or near-crashes happen.

Mark said if drivers find themselves in a vehicle that is accelerating uncontrollably, they should act quickly to regain control.

"If your engine is racing, the wheels are driving, you want to take that driving force away," Mark said. "The best way to do that is to place your vehicle in neutral, regain control and bring it to a stop."

Mark said placing a vehicle in neutral is the quickest and best way to deal with a vehicle undergoing an uncontrolled acceleration. With the vehicle in neutral, the wheels are no longer driving the vehicle forward.

One of the worst things to do is to turn the engine off, which runs the risk of shutting down the vehicle's steering or braking capabilities, he added.

The vehicle's engine could over-rev once placed in neutral and be damaged, he said, but that's a better alternative to losing control and causing a serious crash.

People in the strip mall Tuesday afternoon were still cleaning up from the aftermath of Saturday's crash -- with workers bustling about inside the Ultracuts salon and an insurance business next door.

Huge pieces of a wall that normally separated the salon and the insurance business were missing.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2012 A5

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