Spotty cell service creates half-hour delay in West Coast highway crash response

Officials in Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino joining forces to lobby for Highway 4 service upgrade

Port Alberni’s mayor-elect Sharie Minions has reached out to Tofino and Ucluelet to urge the province to bring communication capabilities to Highway 4 after her mother was involved in a two-vehicle-collision on Monday that was not reported to first responders for roughly 30 minutes as bystanders had to travel to reach cell-service.

Sgt. Steve Mancini of the Ucluelet RCMP told the Westerly News that the crash occurred roughly 28 kilometres west of the Tofino-Ucluelet junction “around one of our notoriously bad curves.”

READ MORE: Ucluelet mayor says highway closure shows need for car ferry between Port Alberni and West Coast

He said an SUV travelling east went over the centre line while negotiating the curve and crashed head-on into a westbound pickup truck. The driver was the SUV’s only occupant and two people were in the pickup truck. All three were injured in the crash, but no life threatening injuries were sustained, according to Mancini.

He said a medevac helicopter was called in, but was unable to land due to rough weather conditions, so the three were transported to Port Alberni’s West Coast General Hospital via ambulance.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Highway closures hit travellers heading in and out of Tofino and Ucluelet

The highway was closed for about an hour to clear the vehicles from the road and to allow an investigation to take place. Charges are pending against the driver of the eastbound vehicle for driving without due care, according to Mancini who said neither alcohol nor narcotics were factors in the collision.

He said the crash occurred around 2 p.m., but was not reported until around 2:30 p.m. as a bystander needed to reach cell-coverage before they were able to alert first responders.

“It’s an area of no cell-coverage, so it took another passing motorist some time to get into an area where they could call out,” Mancini said. “It’s obviously ideal if people who need help can call for it right away and not have to wait.”

READ MORE: UPDATE: Construction on Hwy. 4 halted after tree crashes into traffic

Minions told the Westerly News that her mother was one of the three people involved in the collision.

“She came into the hospital in Port Alberni after 4 p.m., so if the car accident was at 2 p.m., that’s a long time for somebody to be waiting to get to a hospital,” she said.

She said she reached out to Tofino mayor Josie Osborne and Ucluelet mayor-elect Mayco Noel Tuesday morning to discuss the need for communication capabilities, like emergency phones, along the highway.

READ MORE: Tofino mayor re-elected

“Any time that multiple governments can come together and represent needs, we’re going to be stronger,” she said. “It may be past Port Alberni, but a huge amount of our community members travel to Ucluelet and Tofino on a regular basis. We have a lot of tourists who come and stop in all three locations. This is really an issue that impacts all of us. The more we can do for safety along that road, the better.”

Minions said she, Osborne and Noel plan to write a letter to B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure urging for emergency phones to be installed along the road.

“We have a strong case. Especially given this great example of 30 minutes to even notify the police before anything can get going; that’s a long time,” she said. “I think we all see it as a very important push to make and something that’s very reasonable. We’re not lobbying to have the highway completely redone or a cell tower put in at a very challenging location; emergency phones are very needed.”

READ MORE: Flipped fuel truck shuts down Hwy. 4

Noel told the Westerly a regional approach will be needed to effect change.

“It’s not one mayor or one community, it’s going to be regional,” he said. “I want to be able to push it with a loud voice with the region…We need to come up with some solutions. We’ll start by having a voice altogether and then find out where that brings us in the near future.”

READ MORE: Mayco Noel voted Ucluelet’s new mayor

Osborne said Tofino and Ucluelet have been pushing for increased communication capacity on the highway for years and she was delighted to see Port Alberni’s mayor add her voice to the effort.

“Typically, I think, a lot of the concerns about safety and communication on Highway 4 have come from the West Coast, Tofino and Ucluelet, but it was great to have the Port Alberni mayor-elect reach out to both of us and ask us, ‘Is there a way we could work together to lobby the province for better communications on the highway?” she said.

She said adding cellular service on the highway might be a long shot, but there is a strong case to be made for adding emergency phones “at a few key points” along the highway.

“So, that we can avoid these very situations, where it takes minutes or maybe even hours to reach the right services; that could be somebody’s life,” she said.

READ MORE: Hwy. 4 construction mishap causes eight-hour power outage in Tofino and Ucluelet

A Ministry of Transportation and Infrastrucutre spokesperson did not immediately comment on the potential for emergency phones being installed, but told the Westerly that cell service could be explored in the area.

“The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure understands how important access to cell service is along provincial highways. Government regularly reaches out to cellular service providers to convey the need to expand cell service in every part of B.C., including along major corridors,” the spokesperson said.



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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