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Police probe continues into Nov. 7 truck-rock tragedy that killed Duncanite

This GMC pickup truck was driven by Duncan
This GMC pickup truck was driven by Duncan's Gregory Thomas Howlett who died when the windshield was hit by a brick-size rock tossed by an oncoming logging truck along Highway 18 Wednesday.
— image credit: Lake Cowichan Gazette

Family, friends and co-workers were mourning last week's death of Duncan's Gregory Thomas Howlett while hoping better trucking safety prevents another traffic tragedy.

"We'd appreciate if something comes to light that can be done so this doesn't happen to anyone else," said Tina Brooks, operations manager of Nanaimo's Island West Coast Developments Ltd.

That's where popular Howlett, 52, was a construction-site supervisor before being killed Nov. 7. He was driving a company pickup whose windshield was hit by a large rock tossed by an oncoming logging truck on Lake Cowichan Highway 18.

Finding rocks, and other dangerous debris, is the duty of truckers, companies and all road users, explained Kate Trotter of B.C.'s transport ministry.

"It's the responsibility of all road users — from logging-truck operators to cyclists — to ensure their vehicles are roadworthy, and that they are abiding by regulations.

"Logging truck safety is the shared responsibility of operators and companies, in keeping with regulations and best practices."

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement program of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and law- enforcement agencies enforce cargo securement, she noted.

"CVSE undertakes inspections in road-side inspection blitzes and random checks and by working with industry to educate operators."

Meanwhile, folks at Island West Coast Developments were coping with the loss of eight-year colleague Howlett.

"We all know the family man he was, and we all enjoyed how Greg was," Brooks said.

"Greg had a great sense of humour. He was an extremely hard worker, and extremely good at what he did. He'll be missed," she said of the water skiing father of two daughters.

"He was always concerned about his employees and made sure they had the right tools to get the job done," Howlett's Times Colonist obituary reads.

"Greg will be remembered for being selfless and putting others needs first. He always found a way to make things better; his humour and his smile would light up your day."

Coroner Honey Forbes has stated it was miraculous Howlett's wife — identified as Joanne in the Times Colonist obit — gained control of the pickup, and brought it to a stop after Howlett was hit behind the wheel at around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Police were still seeking that logging rig and its driver, RCMP Cpl. Darren Lagan said yesterday.

Trotter also referred to Canadian Forest Products' regulations governing load tie-downs, records of checks, plus other precautions.

But those company rules don't appear to include looking for debris, such as rocks and bark, that can get caught in a rig's dual ties, then be spit into traffic.

Those hazards worried Dwight Yochim of the Truck Loggers Association.

"It's not really something you can inspect for," he told the News Leader Pictorial, noting a separate case where a piece of fire hydrant on a road got lodged in a truck's duallies, then later struck someone.

"It could have been a stone on the highway, and a tire caught it just right," he lamented of the rock from the eastbound rig that bounced off the road, then careered onto Howlett's windshield like a bullet.

"It's a combination of circumstances that ended in a tragedy.

"If something can be learned from this, that'll be great. I'm interested to hear what the police say as to where the rock came from.

"The question is 'Can it be avoided?'"

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