The 38-year-old truck driver who died in a horrific and preventable crash on Monday was a model employee and a “great person,” according to his employer.
Chris Fulton, from London, Ont., was on his way home to celebrate his 11th wedding anniversary with his wife when a passenger van rolled past a stop sign and into his path.
Mr. Fulton, who was travelling south, had no stop sign at the rural intersection.
His truck barrelled into the van, sending it careening into the side of a nearby farm house. The truck skidded across the grass, tearing up chunks of earth before coming to rest on its side.
Ten of the 13 people in the van were killed. A witness to the crash said he rushed to the truck in an effort to rescue Mr. Fulton, but the driver was already dead.
Police have called it one of the worst traffic collisions in the province’s history. And on Wednesday, they announced that it could have been avoided.
“This crash did not have to happen. These lives did not need to be lost,” OPP Chief Superintendent John Cain said at a press conference. He said police have determined the cause was “driver error” and “failure to follow the rules of the road.”
The collision has sent shock waves through Kitchener’s tightly knit Latin American community, where many of the victims lived together in an apartment complex and spent their days vaccinating chickens on local poultry farms.
In nearby London, Mr. Fulton’s family, too, is still reeling from the news of his death.
The 38-year-old had worked for Brampton-based Speedy Transport since 2006. Speedy CEO Jared Martin described him as a hard worker and highly professional. “He was a model owner-operator for our organization,” Mr. Martin said.
A photo distributed by the company shows Mr. Fulton wearing a tuxedo and smiling softly for the camera, his face pressed against his wife Teresa’s cheek and his hand on her shoulder. Ms. Fulton has so far declined to speak with reporters.
Mr. Martin said customers seemed to appreciate Mr. Fulton’s straightforward and honest approach to business.
“He was a straight shooter ... a great person,” he said. “Anything you can think of, it’s what any transportation company would want representing them on the road.”
The driver of the van, 45-year-old David Armando Blancas Hernandez, was also among the victims. Police said Mr. Blancas needed a class F licence to operate the 15-seat van he was driving but only had a class G driver's permit.
They have not yet determined the speed at which Mr. Fulton’s southbound truck was travelling, but should be able to find out from its event data recorder, police said.
OPP Inspector Scott Lawson said police will be looking at issues such as fatigue and driver distraction. He added that drivers need to always “be vigilant” when travelling through rural intersections.
The collision took place in the small hamlet of Hampstead, northeast of Stratford, after the farm workers had finished a long day on the job and boarded two vans.
“A tragedy such as this is a preventable collision,” Insp. Lawson said. “I think it’s important for us all to reflect on the tragedy and remind ourselves to take that extra time and effort and attention paid to the road.”
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha
Stratford resident Rick Sherwood was behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer, heading south on Perth Road 107 toward Cambridge to deliver two skids of freight, when he crested a hill and saw Christopher Fulton’s truck rolling in a cloud of dust before landing on its roof.
Mr. Sherwood, 45, didn’t notice the crumpled white van until he got out of his truck to help. He called 911 and rushed to check on Mr. Fulton, but the 38-year-old truck driver was already dead.
Two days later, the horrific scene still left a lasting imprint.
“I haven’t slept,” Mr. Sherwood said Wednesday.
After checking on Mr. Fulton, he then turned his attention to the van. He couldn’t reach the driver or the passenger behind him, but he checked the others for signs of life. Two men were alive in the back: one who had been sitting on the right side, the other on the left.
A third survivor was on the right-hand side, against the side doors. Some of the survivors were able to speak, but mostly in Spanish. Nobody was ejected from the van, Mr. Sherwood said.
- Renata D’Aliesio