Kelowna Capital News
Lorne Barrass says he’s lucky to be alive after becoming another accident statistic on Highway 33 last Sunday.
Barrass, a resident of Castlegar, was traveling to Kelowna last weekend, with his wife Bernice behind the wheel, at about 2 p.m. when they turned into a blind curve and were confronted by a pile of slush on the road.
Losing traction in that slush, their vehicle, a 1992 Ford Crown Victoria sedan, veered off the highway and catapulted down an embankment about 70 feet below the highway.
“All that prevented us from crashing another 100 feet down the embankment was we hit some trees to stop the car, and that our car was too big to pass through the space between those trees,” Barrass told the newspaper.
“If we had a smaller car, we probably would have kept on going and nobody would have even known we were down there for days.”
The couple had just passed the Big White ski hill turnoff on Highway 33 and were negotiating their way along the stretch of Highway 33 as it descends down a rugged mountain pass from that turnoff.
He was on his way to Kelowna to see a specialist about treatment for a foot ailment.
A road service heavy equipment operator by trade, Barrass said he has been trained to be prepared for accidents in equipment he operates, training which he said allowed him to keep his wits about him after the car came to a stop.
“I was unable to get out of the car because of my foot problem, but I was able to help my wife, who wasn’t badly hurt, to get herself out of the car. She had to hike back up the steep slope to stop a passing motorist and get assistance to make a 9-1-1 call.”
Barrass was critical of the snowplowing efforts on Highway 33 at that time, saying steps can be taken to make it safer for motorists, starting with shutting down the highway when it is being plower until the roads are safely cleared.
“The problem is the road is very narrow in that stretch and there is no where to push the snow in a safe manner when cars are passing the snowplows,” he said.
Barrass’ experience came on the heels of a tragic accident last Wednesday, a single vehicle accident that claimed the life of Alexandra Paulina Nyuli, 21, after the vehicle she was driving veered off the highway and down a steep embankment.
In the aftermath of that accident, John Collinson, president of the Joe Rich Residents Association, has publicly slammed the provincial government for raising the speed limit on Highway 33 from 90/kmh to 100 kmh, which has only served to encourage drivers to go too fast on which is largely a two-lane stretch of highway between Kelowna’s eastern boundaries and the Big White turnoff.
Barrass said he was aware of controversy surrounding Highway 33 over the past week, and says in light of his accident, he and his wife won’t drive that stretch of road again.
“Our car was a write-off so we drove back to Castlegar in a rental, but we went by way of Osoyoos instead,” he said.
“We were very lucky that neither of us were seriously hurt in our accident, but I don’t want to use that highway again, and we have to travel to Kelowna often to deal with my foot problem.”
Barrass is critical of the province’s decision years ago to privatize highways road maintenance work, saying the quality of service has never been the same since.
“The way the roads are looked after now is a joke,” he said. “If we weren’t wearing our seat belts and if the trees hadn’t stopped our car from sliding further down the embankment, we would still be down there now.”
Barrass said he has nothing but good things to say about the efforts of the Joe Rich volunteer firefighters to free him from the crash wreckage and pull him up the steep bank secured to a sled.
“I couldn’t walk four firefighters had to pull me up, which wasn’t easy as I weigh about 250 pounds,” he said.