Driver refusing to pay for Penticton pier crash
The operator of a cabin cruiser which struck the Kiwanis Walking Pier on Okanagan Lake last summer is refusing to pay a $7,500 bill from the city until he gets some answers to his outstanding questions.
René Bourque and a female passenger were returning from a trip to Kelowna just after dark in early July when the 8.5 metres boat they were in hit the wooden structure, breaking through the railings and coming to rest on the deck.
Neither the couple nor any of the young people on the pier at the time were seriously hurt.
“I’ve got the money and I’m willing to pay it and take responsibility for the accident as soon as the city can prove to me that that dock has been certified by Transport Canada,” said Bourque, who also wants a better breakdown on how and where the $7,500 was spent. “But until they prove it to me I’m not going to pay a friggin penny.”
He maintains on the night of the accident the only signal that was on was a red, flashing navigation light.
According to Bourque, normally there is a larger white light and a couple of smaller ones beneath it which were not on at the time.
“I was so used to coming in there and seeing those bottom lights but they weren’t working,” he said. “When we hit that pier there was no light that either one of us saw.”
Bourque added he has since talked to several young people who indicated the pier was a popular party spot in the summer and that kids used to climb the pole the lights were attached to and shine a flashlight into a sensor which turned out the main light.
Chuck Loewen, the city’s general manager for facilities and recreation, said this week he was not aware of such interference with the light.
“All I do know is that the light at the time (of the accident) was functioning as it should and the light has been functioning ever since and whether there is tampering happening on an ongoing basis I cannot comment on,” he said. “Light tampering is completely new to me.”
Bourque believes Transport Canada regulations indicate that because the pier is under federal jurisdiction and is bound by the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the light should be on day and night.
Loewen said he understands Bourque’s frustration in getting information from the federal department.
“I think it’s frustrating for all parties,” he said. “I sent the federal and provincial guys a note last week saying ‘What’s the detail? What’s the follow up?’ and I’ve heard nothing back.
“Transport Canada had promised to get back to us, I think it was by the end of August, and it’s just been month, after month after month and I keep following up but I get nothing back from them.”
Following the accident the city began looking at other types of lighting options to make the dark structure more visible, especially in the evening and at night but said it required authorization from Transport Canada before going ahead with any work. Also after the collision, two commercial boat operators who regularly use the waters in the area at night came forward with similar visibility concerns about the dark-coloured pier.
One of those people was John Rae, whose friend crashed his boat into the dock in the ‘90s and was killed instantly.
Slow speed and a higher lake level were credited in part with a lack of injuries in the case of the July 2013 accident.
Some boaters say the navigation light is difficult to see because it blends in with the shore lights in the background.
Bourque is also continuing to try and have his day in court. He said an initial ticket for operating a vessel with undue care was dropped. He was given another one but was told because it did not have an issue date, he could not fight the matter. At one point he was denied insurance for the trucks he uses in his towing business but that was put on hold until the matter of a court date is straightened out.
“I went to the police and they told me to just pay the ticket, but I said I couldn’t because that would be an admission of guilt so now I have a ticket I have no right to fight,” he said. “This whole thing is getting very, very frustrating.”
Image of lit dock courtesy Drew Makepeace