Police say a van carrying 13 migrant workers ran a stop sign before being struck by a truck, killing 11 people in one of the deadliest crashes ever in Ontario.
The collision happened around 4:45 p.m. Monday in Hampstead, near Stratford.
Police said the van, which had a maximum occupancy of 15, was travelling west on Line 47 when it was hit by a Speedy Transport truck, which was southbound on Perth Road 107. The impact sent the van careening into a nearby house.
“What we’re looking at is a pretty simple collision,” said OPP Const. Kees Wijnands. “We have a vehicle [the van] pulling out from a side road…crossing a country road… and basically not yielding to the traffic on the main highway.”
The truck driver, identified as 38-year-old Christopher Fulton of London, was killed.
The other 10 who died were migrant workers from Peru. In a tragic twist, Jaime Sparks, deputy consul general at Peru’s consulate in Toronto, spoke to media on Tuesday, saying all 10 victims were related, although it’s not clear how.
Their bodies have been transported to the Coroner’s Office in Toronto as investigators try to track down next of kin.
Three of the workers survived the crash. One was airlifted to a hospital in Hamilton, one was taken to a London hospital and the other went to Stratford for treatment. Their conditions haven’t been disclosed.
“The impact and the carnage that was out there — it’s a miracle that these people are still living,” Wijnands said.
On Tuesday, Ontario Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said the government is already looking into the safety of 15-person vans after a previous accident. A report is expected this summer.
“There are safety issues surrounding them and that’s part of the investigation,” he said.
In the meantime, a small rural community is struggling to deal with the tragedy.
Local chicken farmer Albert Burgers, who was working with the victims before the crash, said they worked at poultry farms across the province. Some of them had only arrived in Canada a few weeks earlier.
“You see all these faces. The guys left. They were really happy. They shook my hand and then 15 minutes later they’re dead,” he said.
Burgers said the crew had spent Monday vaccinating more than 16,000 chickens at his farm. He said many of the workers planned to stay in Canada for four or five years and send their earnings back home.
He described them as “very good workers, very happy people.”
Paramedics and officers at the scene said it was the worst crash they’d seen. Services will be offered to the 19 volunteer firefighters from the nearby Shakespeare station who performed the difficult extrications.
“I’ve been on the job for 28 years and I’ve never seen anything quite like this collision tonight, with 11 people killed in the one crash,” Perth County OPP Insp. Steve Porter said.
The truck driver’s transport company released a statement Tuesday saying Fulton tried to avoid the passenger van.
“Per our correspondence with the OPP, a passenger van travelling westbound on Line 47 carrying multiple occupants failed to stop and was struck by our vehicle travelling south on County Road 107. Per the officer, the Speedy Transport driver tried to avoid the passenger van but was unable to do so resulting in his own death,” Speedy Transport said in the statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our driver’s family and the families of the other victims involved in this horrible tragedy.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union also offered condolences to the victims’ families and has called for a probe into transportation issues relating to migrant workers.
“The safe transportation of agriculture workers has always been a critical issue, and we must expect a relentless investigation into how and why such a tragedy occurred,” union president Wayne Hanley said in a statement released Monday night.
On Tuesday, union representative Stan Raper said he wouldn’t be surprised if fatigue played a role in the crash, due to the long shifts in agricultural work.
More than 40,000 migrants work in the Ontario agricultural sector every year, the union said.
The tragedy is one of the deadliest collisions to happen in Ontario. An 87-vehicle pileup happened in 1999 when dense fog hit Windsor. Eight people were killed.
Monday’s accident also marked one of the deadliest days on Ontario roads in recent memory. In addition to the 11 killed in Shakespeare, 4 others were killed in 3 separate crashes.
The mayor of East Perth, Ian Forrest, said a trust fund is being established at CIBC with donations going to Perth County Victims Services and the families of the crash victims.
A fund has also been set up by UFCW Canada and the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) to assist the families of the victims.
Donations to the Migrant Workers Family Support Fund can be made through PayPal at www.ufcw.ca/familysupportfund.
Donations can also be made through the donor’s preferred financial institution by direct transfer to the Fund’s account:
The Migrant Workers Family Support Fund
TD Canada Trust
Account # 5221618
Transit # 1864
Some of the deadliest crashes in Canada:
Dec. 12, 1975: TTC bus collides with a commuter train, killing nine people and injuring 20. It was the worst accident in TTC history.
Oct. 8, 1989: A family reunion turned tragic when a logging truck lost its load while travelling down a road in New Brunswick. The logs fell into a wagon carrying reunion participants on a hayride, killing 13 people. At least 45 were injured.
Oct. 13, 1997: A chartered bus carrying senior citizens on a tour plunged off an embankment about 100 kilometres northeast of Quebec City. The 30-foot fall killed 43 of the 48 passengers on board.
Sept. 3, 1999: Dense fog near Windsor, Ont. caused an 87-vehicle pileup on Highway 401. Eight people died in the ensuing blazes and another 45 were injured.
Mar. 16, 2000: A minivan carrying pre-school children on a day-care outing crashed near St-Jean-Baptiste-de-Nicolet, Que, killing eight of the 10 toddlers on board.
Jan. 12, 2008: Freezing rain on a highway near Bathurst, N.B. caused a high school basketball coach to veer into the a tractor trailer while bring his team home from an out-of-town game. Eight people, including seven players, were killed.
With files from The Canadian Press