A horrific fatal crash on Highway 17A in Delta last year was the result of Mission-based B.C. Frozen Foods, failing to maintain its farm vehicle, or “even (having) the knowledge themselves to safely transport a farm vehicle on a highway”.
That conclusion is detailed in a police collision investigation report obtained by the family of the woman who was killed.
“I watched her go down the road and I didn’t realize (those were) going to be the very last words and the last time I ever saw my mom.”
On Oct. 1, 2021, Norman Sherry said goodbye to his mother after dinner at her home in Tsawwassen.
Less than 30 minutes later, Joan Sherry was dead.
“To lose a family member in this manner so suddenly and so violently, it’s a horrifying experience,” Sherry told Global News in an interview.
Sherry’s 77-year-old mother was driving north on a dark Highway 17A to Yellow Cab in Vancouver for her last shift as a graveyard dispatcher before retirement – when she collided with the back of a slow-moving farm vehicle, forcing part of her Nissan Sentra underneath it.
First responders tried to save Joan but she died at the scene.
“The dashboard from the front seat was in the back seat – it was just horrifying,” recalled her son.
Sherry’s vehicle was obliterated on impact with the 2002 Oxbo Super Jack bean harvester that police say was operating with no rear lights, no flashing red light, no wide load signage, and no red flags.
“You’re going on a 90 kilometre an hour highway in the dead of night with no lights,” said Sherry.
“Basically you’re a 32,500-pound roadblock.”
Eric Butler was driving home from coaching basketball at South Delta Recreation Centre when he encountered the farm vehicle on Highway 17A just before the fatal collision, as he came off the overpass over Deltaport Way.
“All of a sudden my passenger yelled ‘Watch out’ really loudly enough to really startle me,” Butler told Global News.
Those words prompted Butler to quickly perform a shoulder check and pull into the fast lane to narrowly avoid a collision.
“I had just enough time as I was passing it to really notice that there was absolutely nothing on the back of it like, no lights anything.”
Sherry’s son filed a freedom of information request in order to receive a redacted copy of the Delta Police report on the fatal collision.
“Several witnesses recalled almost being a victim to hitting the farm vehicle due to the lack of lighting,” the report stated.
Sherry also learned a mechanical inspection found “the farm vehicle was in no condition to be on the road”, and was moving slower than normal due to a transmission issue.
”The company allowed the vehicle onto a high-speed highway, despite knowing the transmission was not properly operating,” stated the investigation report.
After a thorough investigation which included consulting Crown counsel, the Delta Police Department told Global News the evidence collected did not meet the threshold for criminal charges and no report was submitted to Crown counsel.
“When they knowingly put that vehicle on the highway, my mom was doomed, my mom had no chance,” said Sherry.
While criminal charges were not recommended, Staff Sgt. James Sandberg said enforcement action was taken.
In November 2021, a Box 1 notice and order under the Motor Vehicle Act was served to the farm vehicle’s registered owner, Nadia Shah of B.C. Frozen Foods – requiring the harvester to be inspected by a government-approved facility and all safety defects repaired.
In April, the driver of the farm vehicle was served a violation ticket for failing to display rear lights, which carries a fine of $109 and no points.
When Jasdeep Singh Sandhu, 25, was a no-show for an Aug. 9 court appearance, the ticket was deemed not disputed and he was found guilty of the offence.
The farm vehicle owner also received a violation ticket under Commercial Transport regulations for failing to display flags on an oversize vehicle, which carries a fine of $86 and no points.
The company the harvester was contracted to was also issued a violation ticket for failing to properly equip the vehicle, which carries a $109 fine and no points.
A total of $304 in fines were handed out.
“Ultimately, we want accountability,” said Sherry.
Global News offered B.C. Frozen Foods an opportunity to explain what actions it has taken to make the harvester safe for operation since the fatal collision and enforcement action, but did not receive a response by deadline.
The company also did not respond when asked why their farm vehicle was travelling without rear lights, flashing red lights, wide load signage and red flags on a dark highway where the victim and several witnesses could not see it.
WorkSafeBC said it did not investigate the fatal collision because there was no report of worker injury.
The provincial agency tasked with workplace safety has completed a number of inspections with orders over the years at B.C. Frozen Foods, and issued one warning letter to the company in 2019.
Between 2018 and 2021, WorkSafeBC performed 39 inspections at BC Frozen Foods and issued a total of 31 orders to the Mission-based business.
“It was a big black wall that someone wouldn’t even have noticed until the last second,” Delta South Liberal MLA Ian Paton told Global News.
Paton, who is also a dairy farmer, drove past the aftermath of the 2021 tragedy and said it’s a mystery as to why the huge harvester would be travelling in the dark on a public highway.
“I can’t imagine any farmers throughout this province who would transport farm equipment late at night in October without the proper safety protocol, lighting or even a pilot vehicle behind that slow moving vehicle,” Paton told Global News in an interview.
“One minute you’re driving and the next minute your life is just crushed out and you’re gone,” said Sherry.
“This shouldn’t have to happen and it will happen again.”