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

Participants are encouraged to light a candle and watch the streamed event from home as speakers honor the lives of those lost to overdose from Gyro Bandshell in Penticton April 14, 2021. (Facebook photo)
Vigil for 5th anniversary of B.C. overdose crisis to be held in Penticton

To honor the lives lost to the overdose crisis and bring a call of action to policymakers

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen will speed up the process for hospitality businesses looking to set up patios during the latest COVID-19 restrictions. Under the most recent restrictions, indoor dining is prohibited, but patio dining is allowed. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen speeds up patio permit approval

Initiative to help hospitality businesses affected by latest COVID-19 restrictions

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

The Town of Oliver’s Town Offices, which the town wants to get designated a heritage site. (Black Press)
Oliver council to weigh nixing alerts for water leaks

Staff say the policy has served its purpose in fixing the majority of leaks

A small wildfire near Apex Mountain was added to B.C. WIldfire’s dashboard April 8, 2021. (B.C. Wildfire)
Small wildfire near Apex Mountain under control

2021 has seen an early start to the wildfire season

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Nolan's Pharmasave in downtown Vernon received 200 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines Friday, April 9, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
AstraZeneca vaccines arrive at Vernon pharmacies

Four pharmacies in the city received doses of the COVID-19 inoculant Friday

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on Thursday, April 8. (Contributed)
Revelstoke yoga class fined for defying COVID-19 orders

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on April 8

An East Hill resident had their leaf bags torched in front of their home overnight April 8. Less than two weeks prior their garbage can was lit on fire too. (Taryn Allen photo)
Garbage, leaf fires spark fear in North Okanagan

First an East Hill residents’ trash can, then bagged leaves were lit on fire

Okanagan-based All Are Family Outreach Society, which provides support to those struggling from Armstrong to Kelowna, is in need of a new headquarters after leaving a Winfield church in June 2020. (All Are Family Outreach photo)
Okanagan outreach society in ‘desperate’ need after storage unit break-in

All Are Family Outreach had $4,000 in tools stolen from its donation shipping container

Firefighters responded to a house fire on Banks Crescent in Summerland on Friday afternoon. The fire began as a stovetop fire but resulted in significant damages. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Fire results in damage to Summerland home

Crews called on Friday, April 9 following stovetop fire

Most Read