Vivian Chui and Barbara Latkowski
A year following the tragic death of his daughter on an icy road near Fort St. James, Kevin Cormack is appealing for dramatic changes in what he calls a troubling logging truck culture.
Cormack’s daughter, Jess Hall, was driving with a colleague on Tachie Road on Dec. 7, 2015 when the vehicle she was in was struck by an oncoming loaded logging truck.
“Her last words were: ‘Woah buddy, you’re getting a little close there,” Cormack stated in a letter to the Omineca Express/Caledonia Courier.
Hall, 28, who was a newlywed and a contract travelling nurse on the Tachie Reserve, was killed, but her colleague survived. The driver of the logging truck was uninjured.
“Jess, who had worked there for only a short time, had become a cherished caregiver in the Tl’atz’en First Nations community,” Cormack stated.
“We lost our daughter, sister, wife and friend. No one should have to suffer the pain of such loss.”
Fort St. James District, as well as surrounding communities including the Tl’azt’en First Nation, have since struck road safety committees to help address the situation and the Fort St. James RCMP have increased enforcement.
“But it’s is an ongoing problem,” Dave Stewart of the Fort St. James public works, said.
“At least 500 logging trucks pass through town daily and this takes a big toll on local roads. It takes a lot to maintain them.”
A year after the incident, RCMP would not comment on the case and, if any, pending charges.
“The investigation, as in all fatal crash investigations, are forwarded to crown counsel for their review and decision on charge approval,” said Cpl. Madonna Saunderson, North District Advisory NCO.
“Until such time that crown counsel has reviewed this investigation and provided their decision, we cannot speak to the matter.”
Cormack stated that in his conversations with RCMP following the death of his daughter, the likelihood of a successful criminal conviction is unlikely.
“The Fort St. James RCMP sergeant who investigated the incident told us that criminal charges for unsafe driving rarely stick, but she could pursue charges under the Motor Vehicle Act,” he stated.
Also, Cormack stated that the RCMP had been alerted to a complaint that logging truck drivers bullied another driver for driving the speed limit.
“This story highlights the troubling culture that is far too familiar in the industry,” Cormack wrote.
In 2016, ten high-profile log truck rollovers were tracked by the B.C. Forest Safety Council. From 2005 to 2014, WorkSafeBC recorded 19 work-related deaths from motor vehicle incidents in the forestry industry.
“These motor vehicle fatalities are only preventable if we change the culture of the transport industry if we decide that it is not okay for our lives to be put at risk,” Cormack stated. “We have all felt the hair on the back of our necks rise when a commercial truck is way too close to our ass end to be safe.
“To save lives we must change this culture.”
For Cormack it all starts by increasing penalties and holding companies and their drivers accountable.
We can only do this if we funnel more of our police resources into enforcing safer roads for everyone,” Cormack stated.
“We can only do this if government through WorksafeBC and the coroner’s office make it a priority. We can only do this if we as society say: This is not acceptable!”