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Cause of crash may never be determined

We may never know what caused the deaths of seven Squamish residents following a traffic accident that won't be soon forgotten. Cpl. Dave Ritchie of the Squamish RCMP, an expert in accident investigation, said on Wednesday (Feb.

We may never know what caused the deaths of seven Squamish residents following a traffic accident that won't be soon forgotten.

Cpl. Dave Ritchie of the Squamish RCMP, an expert in accident investigation, said on Wednesday (Feb. 4) that witnesses are helping the police put together a picture of what happened just south of Depot Road at 8:27 a.m. on Saturday (Jan. 31).

Ritchie said that finding out the cause will be difficult because none of the seven people in the two vehicles that collided head-on survived to explain what happened in the seconds before the crash.The vehicles involved in the incident were a southbound red Pontiac Tempest, a northbound Blue Volkswagen GTI and a Ford Escape that was also going north.

There were five people in the Tempest. All five were returning home from night shifts at various hotels in Whistler.

Ritchie confirmed on Wednesday that the southbound red Pontiac Tempest drifted across the centre line.

"On-scene investigation has revealed that there was an initial sideswipe collision between the southbound red Pontiac Tempest and the northbound blue Volkswagen GTI," Ritchie said in a news release issued at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. "The blue Volkswagen rotated across the highway to final rest. The red Pontiac Tempest continued southbound and was in collision with the Ford Escape in the northbound lane."

Ritchie added that there was another northbound vehicle between the GTI and the Escape.

A man from Surrey was driving the vehicle that narrowly escaped being involved in the accident. The man was going to Whistler with his family.

"He phoned in and was in quite a bit of shock," Ritchie said. "He pulled over and checked his family and determined that he couldn't help at the scene. By then many people had pulled over and were helping at the scene. That witness was interviewed by members in Surrey."

Based on statements from the witnesses, Ritchie said the Tempest sideswiped the GTI then swerved back to the southbound lane and then swerved again into the Escape.

The witness accounts will be put together with a string of reports from both the RCMP and the Coroner's Service. Coroner Jody Doll and Ritchie agree that driver fatigue is a possible cause, but they both emphasize that fatigue is just one possible contributor to the accident.

"Driver fatigue may have been a factor, it may not have been," Doll said Wednesday. "Fatigue is not something that leaves a physical footprint that you can see in an autopsy."

"Fatigue is very difficult to prove," Ritchie said.

"I'm looking at some of the medical backgrounds to see if that can shed any light on possible reasons for the accident," Doll said. "Autopsies and toxicology exams are being conducted. I'm getting reports also from the traffic analysts. The RCMP approach to these things is from the legal and criminal end of things. In the Coroner's Service we step back a bit and look at the whole system and see if we can improve the whole system. We're doing a full inquiry and investigation."

Ritchie said RCMP investigators looked at the two vehicles involved in the crash and those vehicles are now in the hands of ICBC.

There were a total of ten people involved in the collisions. The three people in the GTI were unhurt. They were going to Whistler for a day on the mountains. The names of the individuals in the GTI were not released.

Ritchie said the driver's side mirror on the GTI was damaged in the sideswipe collision. No charges are being contemplated against the driver of the GTI.

Six people died at the scene and the seventh was pronounced dead at Squamish General Hospital.Jasdeep Sandhu, Karmjit Dhillon, Balwinder Gill, Dilbagh Goraya and Balwinder Dhanoa died in the Tempest.

Alexander Barbour, the driver of the Escape, also died at the scene. His son Ian Barbour was rushed by ambulance from the scene to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The on-scene investigation of the accident took about seven hours, according to Ritchie. While the police investigated the crash, Hwy. 99 was closed and traffic was forced to use Government Road between Garibaldi Way and Depot Road.

Ritchie said the police learned that both drivers were wearing seat belts and two airbags deployed in the Escape. To the best of his knowledge no airbags deployed in the Tempest.

As part of the investigation into the crash, Ritchie said the police want to hear from anyone who witnessed the crash and hasn't already given the police a statement. Witness came forward after the accident but Ritchie said there may be others who saw something and chose not to report it.

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