When paramedic Paul Hills got the call about a fatal crash on Highway 11 and Wanuskewin Road after midnight on Sunday, it all seemed too familiar.
“When the call came across it sounded quite serious; more serious than the average call, with possible deaths,” he said, adding memories of crashes at that intersection came flooding back as he drove to the scene.
Upon arrival, the situation seemed far worse than he imagined with a car ending up 100 feet off the road into the ditch, crumpled up with people trapped inside.
Police said two adults, 34-year-old Jordan Van de Vorst and his wife 33-year-old wife Chanda were pronounced dead at the scene while their two children, two-year-old Miguire and five-year-old Kamryn were rushed to hospital where they later died from their injuries. 49-year-old Catherine Loye McKay has been charged with four counts of impaired driving causing death.
“This is one of the worst if not the worst just given the circumstances of the family, words can’t even explain condolences or what the rest of the family is going through and the loss in the community,” Hills said about the horrific crash. “It’s a sad circumstance we have to be involved in, the pictures for me are one thing, but they’ve lost lives they won’t see again.”
With 16 years behind him Hills said support systems within the ambulance company as well as friends and family go a long way in helping first-responders cope with and recover from facing these traumatic experiences. But 16 years of emergency calls does wear a person down.
“In my experience you learn to deal with things by going to the gym, talking things out with family and just taking care of yourself mentally and physically,” he said. “The stress is not from one instance that we see, it’s the multiple instances that we see on any given day.”
Unfortunately Hills said he attends the intersection of Highway 11 and Wanukskewin Road often. Just two weeks before the collision that killed the Van de Vorsts, Hills was called to the scene after a man was side-swiped. Luckily the man saw it coming and was able to avoid a major collision, but he did end up in the ditch. But that’s just one case.
“I think we’ve done 30 to 40 calls in the last couple of years which is a tremendous amount for an intersection,” Hills said. “With highway speeds you’re talking increased rates of fatality and injury; there’s been three fatalities before this family and it’s only getting worse as populations grow.”
His solution? Force drivers to slow down on that stretch of Highway 11.
“Reducing speed is something that can happen immediately we can put signs up by the end of the week, dropping speeds down to 80 or 70 kilometres per hour …is it a nuisance? Sure, but more people are willing to save lives that save minutes getting to work.”
Hills added on the night of the crash he was the only ambulance available to respond immediately. A second ambulance was just coming off a scheduled break while a third ambulance was called from Royal University Hospital