North Okanagan crash survivor speaks out for safety improvements

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North Okanagan crash survivor speaks out for safety improvements – Jul 15, 2022

A Vernon, B.C. man who survived a fatal crash on Tuesday is calling for safety improvements for a North Okanagan highway.

The collision occurred just north of Vernon where Highway 97 turns into Highway 97A.

A 69-year-old Enderby man was killed after his pickup truck crossed into oncoming traffic and hit two vehicles before heading towards William Oben’s dump truck.

Oben said he was headed to a job site in his dump truck Tuesday morning when he saw the northbound pickup clip two vehicles.

Read more: B.C.’s Highway 97A gets new safety signage after fatal crash

“It looked like a body got flown from one of the vehicles and my eyes just popped out of my sockets. I’m like, ‘Oh no, I just witnessed an accident,'” said Oben.

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The pickup then seemed to straighten out before heading towards Oben’s truck at over 100 km/hr, Oben said.

“I was in the wrong place, wrong time. He hit my truck so fast I didn’t have time to stop, or to swerve, or to brake. After he hit my truck, my whole truck just died instantly and I think I came to a stop,” he said.

He couldn’t open his truck door and was panicked, worried the vehicle would catch on fire.

But Oben said he was able to get out the passenger door and run to a safe spot.

Read more: One dead in fatal collision north of Vernon: RCMP

Having his normal workday turned into a tragedy in a matter of moments left him shocked and in tears.

“Three or four days after the accident it is hitting me hard. I’m not too sure if I will ever get back in a truck ever again because this is pretty serious and it’s going to take a long time to heal,” Oben said.

While Oben came away from the crash with relatively minor physical injuries, the psychological impacts on the professional driver have been huge.

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He’s now feeling survivor’s guilt and is nervous to get back behind the wheel.

“I’m still beating myself up. It’s like, ‘What could I [have] done just to avoid this happening?’ Maybe [the other driver] had some kind of medical emergency. I’m not too sure,” Oben said.
“I need to stop thinking about it because it is going to haunt me and it is going to be a tragic [memory] for the rest of my life. I don’t want this to happen to anybody. So I would like to see concrete barriers put on that highway.”

The stretch of highway where the crash occurred is currently undivided.

The province says it does have plans to install concrete median barriers on a nearly 7.8 km section of the road, which includes the area of the crash site.

However, the barrier installation is not expected to be finished until next spring.

Last year, following community outcry related to another fatal crash, median barriers were installed on a nearly six-kilometer section of Highway 97A slightly to the north of the most recent crash site.

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Read more: Vernon widower pleased to see median barriers installed on Highway 97A

The new section of median barriers is expected to connect up with the existing barriers to create a continuous stretch of divided highway from south of the Swan Lake Overpass to Armstrong.

“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by Tuesday’s accident. The safety of people on our highways is our top priority,” the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in a statement.

Oben is grateful to first responders and those who stopped and helped him after the collision.

He says there was a dashcam in his vehicle and he hopes police are able to use the footage as they investigate the crash.

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