The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)

Truck driver charged with criminal negligence in Coquihalla crash is accused of ignoring smoking brakes

Just before crashing the smoking truck was seen entering Zopkios brake check and leaving shortly after

Truck driver Roy McCormack faced a series of life-and-death decisions as his out-of-control tractor trailer picked up speed with failing brakes on a clear day in August 2016 on one of the steepest grades on one of the most dangerous highways in North America.

That was part of McCormack’s testimony as the sole witness in his own defence in his BC Supreme Court trial in Chilliwack this week.

McCormack is charged with eight counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle after he was involved in a multi-vehicle collision on Highway 5 (Coquihalla Highway) on August 5, 2016.

READ MORE: Truck driver facing 8 counts of criminal negligence for 2016 Coquihalla crash

Crown is arguing that McCormack was criminally negligent in failing to conduct proper pre-trip inspections, failing to deal with smoking brakes at the summit of the Coquihalla, and making fraudulent entries in his log book.

McCormack said he acted up to the standards he normally performed as a truck driver, and he did all he could to avoid the collision that injured eight people.

On Thursday (Feb. 25), Crown wrapped up its case, and then McCormack took the witness stand as the sole witness for the defence.

He testified said that soon after leaving the Zopkios Brake Check and when he was at or near the Great Bear Snow Shed, he started to notice smoke coming from the rear left wheel on his trailer for the second time in just a few kilometres. Before he entered Zopkios he had notice smoke from the same location, but he said when he checked at the roadside stop, everything seemed fine.

“As soon as I hit the steepest part of the grade my truck started to speed up and I applied the brake,” the 58-year-old testified Thursday.

“At this point, I realized the weight of the trailer is pushing my truck. There is something wrong with my trailer. I noticed a 90 km/hr sign so I kept trying to apply my brakes. In my panic it emptied out the air in the tanks and my alarm bells were going off. At this point I was really starting to panic because I had no brakes and no air.”

McCormack said he spotted a runaway lane up ahead, but there was a truck in the right lane, his only way to get to it was to crash into that truck, something he considered but didn’t do.

That’s when he saw far up ahead, traffic was stopped, and he testified he was left with two choices: go into oncoming traffic or drive off the mountain.

He did neither, and neither were likely possible given the concrete barriers on both sides of the lanes.

“That’s when I completely panicked,” he said.

He said he pondered pulling the parking brakes but “I didn’t know what would happen.”

Instead he tried to grind his truck up against the concrete barriers, but instead his truck bounced back into the centre of the highway. As he barrelled towards two lanes of stopped traffic, he decided his choice was to smash directly into the back of one lane of cars, or stay in the middle of the two-lane road hoping to cause less damage to the cars and trucks up ahead.

He said the first thing he hit was an RV trailer that broke his driver-side window “and hit glass and wood in my face” and he lost control.

”Eventually I came to a stop and I was in shock,” he said. “I heard lots of noise, people yelling and screaming.”

Crown counsel Grant Lindsey cross-examined McCormack, asking repeatedly why he didn’t try to pull the truck’s parking brakes as he admitted considering.

“At some point, you thought it was better to run into these vehicles than trying the parking brake,” Lindsey said. “Why didn’t you try the parking brake?”

McCormack responded that he didn’t know what would happen.

“It could jackknife or roll. All I could think of was hitting oncoming traffic.”

Regardless of his actions or inactions once it was clear his brakes didn’t work going downhill on the Coquihalla, the case seems to hinge on whether McCormack’s lack of proper pre-trip inspections alleged by Crown amount to criminal negligence.

One professional vehicle inspector testified he saw damage to the brakes and a bald tire, neither of which took a detailed analysis to notice.

Lindsey put to McCormack the suggestion that the truck driver didn’t pull into Zopkios to inspect his brakes that had been smoking, he rolled in to the brake check only because he was afraid he would be seen if he didn’t.

“I’m suggesting you didn’t actually stop there,” Lindsey said.

“I’m suggesting you went into Zopkios still smoking and you hoped you could get down the hill.”

McCormack denied that, insisting that he inspected the truck and found nothing after the smoking brakes, and before the brakes gave out and the crash happened.

“I didn’t see anything that raised concerns for me.”

Lindsey and defence counsel Philip Derksen both wrapped up their cases Thursday (Feb. 25) and are scheduled to present closing arguments on Friday.

Justice Peter Edelmann will likely put his decision over to another date.

RELATED: UPDATE: Coquihalla reopened after pileup leaves 1 dead, dozens injured

RELATED: 30 years later: Stories from the Coquihalla


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
editor@theprogress.com

@TheProgress
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coquihalla Highway

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)

Just Posted

The Primary Urgent Care Centre on Martin Street opened on March 31, 2021. Interior Health is asking for funding from the Okanagan Similkameen Hospital District for the centre. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Interior Health seeks another shot at primary care funding

IH has sent a request for $1 million to the Okanagan Similkameen Hospital District

Skaha Lake Middle School. (File photo)
Penticton middle school has COVID exposure

Skaha Middle School is the latest in growing lists of exposure in the Okanagan

Air Canada cancelled service to and from Penticton Jan. 11, 2021. After receving $5.9 billion in federal aid the airline is now set to renew service on the route in June, 2021. (Mark Brett - Western News file)
Air Canada set to return to Penticton

Federal aid could have the Vancouver/Penticton route back to pre-pandemic service

RCMP
Oliver man with warrants facing new charges for driving a stolen vehicle

The 39-year-old was found in a truck stolen out of Kelowna and arrested at the scene

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a now-password-protected membership application form on its website. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Forward Elan Bar Lev Wise of the West Kelowna Warriors (right, shown playing for the Vernon Vipers in 2019) has been suspended nine games by the B.C. Hockey League for being the instigator and aggressor in an after-the-game fight with Vernon’s Kjell Kjemhus Monday, April 12, at Kal Tire Place. Kjemhus was given a two-game suspension for his role. (Black Press - file photo)
West Kelowna Warriors forward handed lengthy suspension

Elan Bar Lev Wise fought Vernon Vipers forward Kjell Kjemhus after BCHL game was over Monday, April 12; Kjemhus suspended two games

A five-storey, 60-unit building has been proposed for 8709 Jubilee Rd. E., Summerland. The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing on March 22. (Image by GTA Architecture)
Zoning, OCP amendments adopted for Summerland housing development

Additional variances will be needed for controversial five-storey, 60-unit housing development

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

Sheila Derbyshire surprised her daughter, Talyn, at Len Wood Middle School in Armstrong April 12, 2021, for her 13th birthday with 13 clowns carrying 13 red balloons. (Sheila Derbyshire - Contributed)
Armstrong mom sends in the clowns

‘Halloween freak’ celebrates daughter’s 13th birthday in style

Most Read