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A truck driver from Saskatchewan is facing dangerous driving and criminal negligence charges in what RCMP are calling a "chaotic" multi-vehicle highway collision Thursday that left two dead and sent six others to hospital.
A seven-year-old girl from Winnipeg and a 61-year-old man from the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews were killed when a semi towing a trailer failed to stop at a marked construction zone on Highway 2, approximately three kilometres east of Fannystelle.
The cause of the collision is still under investigation, but witnesses at the scene reportedly told RCMP the accused didn't appear to slow down before entering the construction zone.
"It was still going at a very high rate of speed," Cpl. Julie Courchaine, RCMP media relations officer, said Friday. "There was signage up for the construction zone… perhaps he didn’t see it. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions, but obviously enough to make an arrest."
A number of vehicles were stopped in both directions along the two-lane highway while construction workers controlled the flow of traffic through the area. According to the province, a seal coat treatment (spraying an oily mixture and applying aggregates) was being applied.
The eastbound semi collided with several vehicles before crashing into another semi truck and coming to a stop.
A total of eight vehicles were involved in the collision and 15 people were injured.
Several were treated at the scene and released; six were initially taken to hospital. None of the construction workers were among those injured.
The 61-year-old man was driving a motorcycle and the seven-year-old girl was in a van with seven other people at the time of the crash. Three of the van passengers — a 22-year-old woman, a 14-year-old girl and 10-year-old girl — remain in hospital with serious injuries.
"It was a very chaotic and, obviously, tragic scene," Courchaine said. "That’s not something we normally see on a day-to-day basis. We go to collisions, but it’s normally one- or two-vehicle collisions, not something this serious involving eight vehicles."
The 56-year-old semi-truck driver was arrested on the scene and is in custody in Carman, awaiting a remand hearing.
Rural Municipality of Grey Reeve Raymond Franzmann said crews had been doing road-resurfacing work in the area for about a week. Flag people and pilot vehicles were on site to help traffic move through the construction zone.
"It's sort of disbelief that someone who managed to negotiate through the curve at Fannystelle to come out on a straightaway didn’t even see what was going on in front of him or didn’t even appear to try to get out of the way," Franzmann told the Free Press in a telephone interview.
Earlier this year, an area resident died in a collision on the highway near Elm Creek; several years ago, two people were killed after being rear-ended by an impaired driver a few kilometres up the road from Thursday's crash site, said Franzmann.
"It’s becoming a bit of a dangerous highway," he said. "We have a lot of traffic on this highway and there’s a lot of semi traffic, they seem to like to skirt the scale on (Highway 1) at Headingley."
The RM has reportedly asked the RCMP to do more about speeding in the area, and requested better signage along the highway.
While the Manitoba Trucking Association couldn't speak directly to Thursday's incident, executive director Terry Shaw says his industry has a strong safety record.
"We’re clearly not incident-free, but work is ongoing and work needs to continue," Shaw said. "Incidents like this are an unfortunate reminder for all road users, including those in the trucking community, that we need to remain diligent, we need to continue focusing on safety."
It may be the worst crash of its kind in Manitoba history, according Chris Lorenc, president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association and chairman of SAFE Roads Manitoba.
"I can't recall any construction site-related accident where so many people were not only tragically killed, but also injured. It's just horrible," Lorenc said Friday. "This underscores why it's so important to be aware of your circumstances at all times and not be distracted from the primary responsibility, which is driving the vehicle and paying attention to the rules of the road."
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.