Abandoned trailer on Cape Breton highway did not ‘impede public safety’: N.S. government

Highway 105 at the top of Kelly's Mountain, N.S., pictured on April 24, 2018. Reynold Gregor / Global News

Nova Scotia’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal staff spotted an abandoned trailer on the lane of a Cape Breton highway hours before it was involved in a collision with a school bus and decided to not take action, deeming the trailer did not “impede public safety.”

About five hours after the department first learned about the semi-trailer and made that determination on Jan. 12, a school bus travelling eastbound on Highway 105 and carrying 11 students crashed into the trailer near the crest of Kelly’s Mountain.

READ MORE: N.S. school bus driver seriously injured in Cape Breton highway crash

The driver was pinned by the damage but conscious, as first responders took about three hours to free him with the Jaws of Life. He was transported by a helicopter to a hospital.

Students who were inside the bus sustained minor injuries.

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The speed limit in the area is 100 km/h.

Department vehicles passed by site before collision

GPS data obtained via freedom of information legislation show a “supervisor vehicle, assisting with traffic” passed through the area at about 3 a.m. that morning.

“Staff noted that emergency triangles were appropriately set up approaching the trailer and there was clear visibility of the scene during the early morning hours. There is a second lane on this stretch of road and it was determined motorists had the ability to safely get around the trailer,” TIR spokesperson Marla MacInnis said in an email.

“When a trailer is abandoned by its operator on the side of the road, they have an obligation to set up emergency triangles approaching the vehicle and ensure the scene is clearly visible and safe to traffic until they can have the trailer removed.”

An interview request was not fulfilled.

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A department vehicle “travelling to and from Baddeck for mechanical repairs” passed the trailer around 6:41 a.m., according to the data.

A vehicle transportation inspection patrol unit vehicle travelling eastbound also passed through the area at about 7:45 a.m.

“The trailer was noted again by staff at approximately 7 [a.m.],” MacInnis said. “The emergency triangles remained in place and it was a clear morning with good visibility and driving conditions. The scene was not determined to impede public safety.”
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RCMP Const. Eric Latwaitis told The Canadian Press on the day of the collision that weather conditions may have limited the bus driver’s ability to see what was in front of him.

“It was a bright sunny day and the roads were very wet, and the sun was right at the top of the roadway as he came around the turn, so we believe that may have been a considerable factor in what happened,” he said.

The driver seemed to have left only two warning triangles behind the truck after it broke down the previous night, Latwaitis said.

Latwaitis also said he has never before seen a truck abandoned on a road in that way: “Never to this extent, right into the middle of the lane.”

No public notice about abandoned trailer

TIR has tweeted about different abandoned vehicles at least three times before.

MacInnis said the policy on public notices states: “At the discretion of the Area Managers, District Bridge Engineers and Construction Managers, all roads that may have traffic disruption due to weather conditions, motor vehicle incidents and construction projects will be entered in 511.”

When asked if a notice about the trailer should have been issued, she said, “The scene was determined not to impede public safety.”

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The department tweeted about the collision that morning.

There were “some orange triangles placed leading to the vehicle. Road temperature was around [4 C],” read an email among government employees about the collision.

Another government email sent by a department employee following the collision noted that an Emergency Health Services LifeFlight helicopter could be seen on a TIR public camera feed, and asked if it could be disabled.

The emails were obtained in a separate collection of documents.

Collision still under investigation

Stephen Rafuse, a spokesperson for Bestway Pro-Can Trucking Services, said the trailer hit was owned by the company. He declined to comment while the matter is under investigation.

Cape Breton Victoria Regional Centre for Education spokesperson Michelle MacLeod, who said the driver is “doing better,” wouldn’t discuss the matter further while it’s under investigation. The organization also handles the school buses.

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MacInnis said questions regarding the cause of the collision should be referred to police.

“The matter is still under investigation and with that, there’s really nothing more I can tell you. If charges are laid, more info would be available,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in an email to Global News.

With files from The Canadian Press

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