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Bald tires, hydroplaning, inexperience cited in Malahat's triple tragedy

Bald tires, hydroplaning, and driver inexperience are cited by the coroner as reasons for this 2012 Malahat crash that killed three and injured five, along NASCAR corner. - Courtesy Rob Patterson
Bald tires, hydroplaning, and driver inexperience are cited by the coroner as reasons for this 2012 Malahat crash that killed three and injured five, along NASCAR corner.
— image credit: Courtesy Rob Patterson

Bald tires, hydroplaning, and driver inexperience contributed to one of Cowichan’s worst traffic fatalities in recent memory.

The Oct. 14, 2012 crash on the Malahat killed three people and injured five others.

B.C. coroner Lyn Blenkinsop’s report explains how a seat-belted Pheap Top, 30, died instantly when her southbound, four-door 1997 Honda CRV — carrying four other passengers — collided head on with a GMC pickup truck on the Malahat’s so-called NASCAR corner, near Shawnigan Lake.

Two other passengers were killed during the 11:25 a.m. crash just north of Whittaker Road, where the Honda was split in two on impact.

Diane Muriel Lacasca Bocacao, 19, and Gene Kloie Resu Jamisola, 16, were later identified by the coroner as the other two killed.

The triple tragedy helped spur Cowichanians’ calls for Malahat median upgrades, still being completed.

Top’s hydroplaning Honda started a counter-clockwise rotation, sliding across the highway into the northbound lane in front of a full-size pickup, Blenkinsop’s report explains.

The pickup’s driver tried to avoid the collision by applying his brakes and swerving to his right, but the truck could not stop in time and struck the Honda’s right side.

Both vehicles ended in the highway’s east-side ditch, she says.

The front half of Top’s Honda stood upright in the ditch; the rear half ended partly on its roof, and partially in its right side in the northbound lane.

The GMC pickup received extensive front-end damage, coming to rest against the passenger-side portion of the Honda in the ditch.

Top’s other two passengers, and the pickup’s three seat-belted adults, were also taken to hospital.

“The driver of the Honda SUV was killed, as well as the female front passenger, and the female in the rear passenger seat who was ejected from the car,” Shawnigan Lake RCMP Sgt. Rob Webb said at the time.

A 20-year-old male was also ejected and taken to Victoria General Hospital with life-threatening injuries, said Webb.

“A six-year-old girl, who was wearing her seatbelt, is described as a miracle for surviving this horrific crash.”

The highway was in good repair. The site was at a slight downhill angle, and carried a 80 kilometre-per-hour speed limit, reports the coroner.

Both vehicles were going 88 kph, but dropped to 86 kph seconds before impact, their computers show.

“Visibility was good, and traffic flow was light to moderate,” notes Blenkinsop.

Mechanical inspection of the Honda showed tread depth, on both rear tires measured from zero to three millimetres, from one side to the other.

Normal tread depth for new tires averages 7.9 to 8.7 mm, notes the coroner.

“What remained of the (Honda’s) tread pattern was below the built-in wear indicators, indicating its tires should have been replaced.”

Tires in this condition would be unable to dissipate roadway rainwater, and would have compromised the Honda’s lateral stability, causing hydroplaning, she explains.

Given those poor tires, any braking or steering by the driver (Top) with have caused the CRV to spin.

Top was licensed, but had only been driving for about a year.

“... Driver inexperience in handling a hydroplaning vehicle would have been a contributing factor in this accident,” Blenkinsop says.

The crash closed the Malahat in both directions for some six hours while police rerouted traffic along Shawnigan Lake Road.

The scene was attended by the Malahat and Mill Bay fire halls.

Members used two sets of the Jaws of Life to remove people from the mangled wreckage.

Fire crews later received trauma counseling after attending the horrific wreck.

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