Two Good Samaritans sprang into action after a dump truck travelling at highway speeds plunged into an icy, water-filled ditch in Chilliwack on Friday.
Scott Bridge and Dan Coulter (not Chilliwack’s MLA) were both travelling south in separate vehicles on Young Road when they saw it happen.
A dump truck heading westbound came barrelling down the Highway 1 offramp at about 80 or 90 kilometres an hour around noon on Friday, Jan. 14. The driver swerved to the left to avoid hitting a pickup truck stopped at a stop sign, went across Young Road and landed in a ditch filled with frigid water.
Erin Coulter, Dan’s wife, called 911. So did many others who saw it happen.
Both Scott and Dan quickly pulled over to the side of the road, jumped out of their vehicles and ran to the dump truck.
Scott, who’s a teacher at Chilliwack Secondary School, is a former lifeguard and has first aid training. Neither he nor Dan hesitated for a second to go into Chilliwack Creek to rescue the man.
They shouted down to the driver from the side of the road, but there was no response.
Scott went down the steep embankment, blackberry bushes scratching at him as he went, while Dan crawled along the box of the truck toward the cab. They peered in the cab but no one was there.
The driver was ejected from the cab and he was completely submerged in the water.
The two spotted him about a foot under the surface of the murky creek. Dan saw the driver’s hand, Scott saw the driver’s face with his eyes still open underwater.
“He was pinned underwater,” Scott said.
Dan believes the driver was tangled in the windshield gasket and other debris which prevented him from being pulled down the creek.
Dan grabbed the driver and pulled his head above water.
He was a younger man in his mid-30s, Scott recalled.
Dan held onto the truck’s sideview mirror and Scott – who’s 6’3” – was up to his armpits in the creek. They both held on to the driver, fighting against the current of the creek.
The driver had suffered a major head injury, but he was awake and trying to speak. He made noises, but no words came out of his mouth.
“He had no idea where he was,” Scott said.
They didn’t know how injured he was and didn’t want to cause any further injury, but they had to get him to the edge of the creek for fear of him becoming hypothermic.
Scott and Dan hauled the man most of the way out, the bottom half of his legs still in the icy water.
The driver made small movements with his head and arms, and then reached out squeezed Scott’s hand.
“He was still with us,” Dan said.
They held onto him tightly as they waited for more help to arrive.
Up on the road, others had stopped to help. An RCMP officer was flagged down, people were on the phone with 911 dispatch, and an off-duty officer pulled over as well.
One driver had a ratchet strap in his vehicle. He tossed one end of it down to the men while he held onto the other end at the side of the road. The off-duty officer told Scott and Dan to put the strap underneath the driver’s armpits for support.
About five minutes later, paramedics and firefighters arrived.
Crews used a ladder and a spineboard to bring the man out of the ditch. He was taken to the Chilliwack Airport where he was later transferred to an air ambulance.
Recalling the sight of the dump truck flying across Young Road in front of him, Scott said he believes the driver was alert before he crashed.
Although the driver of the truck did not brake, he consciously swerved around the pickup and narrowly missed hitting several vehicles including Scott and Dan’s vehicles.
“He did have the presence of mind to swerve and miss that vehicle that was at the stop sign,” Scott said.
The dump truck’s hazard lights were also on, so he must have been aware that he was about to crash, Scott added.
“(It’s) amazing that no one else was hit,” Erin said.
Scott called the driver a “hero” for swerving to avoid colliding with any other vehicles.
Scott said this was the third collision where he was the first one on scene and this was the “most graphic.” But, he’s glad he and Dan were there at the right time because they both knew what to do.
Since the incident, Dan has thought “how fragile and beautiful that we don’t think much, we just react and try to do our best for our fellows.”
“It’s the Canadian thing to do. If you see someone in trouble, you act,” he said.
The Chilliwack Progress reached out to RCMP for an update to this story and is waiting for comment.
Note: An earlier version of this story stated the vehicle stopped at the stop sign was an SUV. The Progress regrets the error and any confusion it may have caused.