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On a bright evening last June, Ken Baker of Yukon’s Carcross/Tagish First Nation was killed in a freak traffic accident when a winch boom dislodged from the back of a tractor trailer travelling in the opposite direction on the Alaska Highway, striking his car on the driver side. It pierced the windshield and killed him instantly.

The driver of the truck did not stop at the time of the June 4, 2017 accident and remains unidentified. In a statement soon afterward, Yukon RCMP said they believed it was possible that the driver “may not know the incident occurred.”

In an unusual step, Mr. Baker’s partner, Emily Bear, is now suing the unknown driver and the unknown companies that owned the truck and trailer. According to the public record, Ms. Bear filed a suit with the Yukon Supreme Court for damages, costs and “any further such relief” as the court “may deem just,” on Dec. 15, 2017.

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Ken Baker of Yukon’s Carcross/Tagish First Nation.Supplied

At the time of his death, Ken Baker, 58, lived in Carcross, Yukon, a small community known for its friendly people, good fishing and world-class mountain-biking trails. By all accounts he was much loved – a smiling, easy-going man always quick with a story or a joke. He was a celebrated traditional dancer and member of the Tagish Nation Dancers, who performed for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their 2016 visit to the Yukon.

Arthur Joe, 65, was in the vehicle with Mr. Baker at the time of the accident. The two men had driven out to Squanga Lake, about 70 kilometres from the village of Teslin, Yukon, where they spent a few hours before heading back toward Whitehorse on the lightly travelled highway. It was a bright, sunny evening and the two men were in good spirits. As they approached Jake’s Corners – a crossroad on the Alaska Highway – Mr. Joe says he could see a flatbed truck coming toward them, and that something was noticeably “flapping away” from the back of it, although he was not alarmed by it.

As the truck went by, Mr. Joe had just finished telling a joke, he says, and Mr. Baker was laughing.

“I turned and looked at him … and then there was this big crash, bang, I don’t know what the hell happened,” Mr. Joe says.

“He died with a smile on his face – I’ll never forget his face.”

Mr. Joe was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries following the accident, which he says has left him with chronic pain in his back and leg which still require prescription painkillers. A citizen of Champagne-Aishihik First Nations and a traditional dancer in his own right, Mr. Joe is unsure if he will ever be able to perform again. Moreover, he says, the trauma of the accident, even now, months later, has left him emotionally shaken.

“It’s something else,” he says. “I don’t know if there’s a word for it. It’s terrible.”

“It was just the wrong time. Everything was just the wrong time.”

Yukon’s acting chief coroner Heather Jones described the accident as “tragic.”

Ms. Bear, Mr. Baker’s partner, is a daycare worker who lived with him in Carcross.

In Ms. Bear’s lawsuit, because the defendant is “an unidentified person whose place of residence is unknown,” he or she is simply referred to throughout the suit as “John Doe.” The suit contains a litany of allegations against them, including “failing to keep a proper or any lookout,” driving without “due care and attention,” not taking “reasonable and proper steps” to prevent an accident, and “failing to stop … or reasonably slow the vehicle when [John Doe] knew, or ought to have known, that an accident was impending.”

Mr. Baker’s death was caused by the driver’s negligence, the suit asserts.

Two companies are also implicated in the suit: “Doe Corporation No. 1” and “Doe Corporation No. 2,” the owners of the truck and trailer, respectively. Their identities are also unknown.

The suit also points the finger at another mystery person, “Jane Doe,” who would have been someone, such as an inspector or supervisor, who may have allowed John Doe to drive the truck when they were “inexperienced” or “incompetent” or “having the means of knowing that [the truck or trailer] was mechanically defective … and failing to have the same repaired.”

RCMP issued a release Dec. 21 stating that, following an “extensive investigation,” the driver of the truck had still not been found “despite all investigative avenues being pursued and all leads being exhausted.” To date, that remains unchanged.

Ms. Bear and her lawyer, Debra Fendrick, declined to discuss the suit in depth.

It’s important for me – he [the driver] is accountable for this, he’s responsible.

Arthur Joe

A similar suit has been filed by Mr. Joe.

It is unknown when a decision will be made on either case, or if the unknown defendants will ever be formally charged. Ms. Bear said that, if she is able to collect on damages, it would be an insurance matter. In the meantime, there are still many questions left unanswered for those Mr. Baker left behind.

“I want to know why the truck driver didn’t come forward,” says Ms. Bear. “Why didn’t they notice they had lost [the boom winch]?”

“They may never find anyone,” says Mr. Baker’s sister, Carol Duquette. “I mean, for me, personally, I’m not so worried if they don’t find anyone. It won’t bring [Ken] back, it won’t change anything.”

Mr. Joe feels differently.

“It’s important for me – he [the driver] is accountable for this, he’s responsible,” he says.

“Nothing happens like that. How does a boomer just come off like that?” he says. “It wasn’t [Ken’s] time to go. … I believe his spirit is still out there.”

Ms. Duquette, Ms. Bear and Mr. Joe all say they want to see tougher rules put in place for truck drivers in the territory, including more check stops and more thorough inspections.

“If the [boom winch] had been snapped down at both sides, none of this would have happened,” Ms. Duquette says.

Brittanee Stewart, a spokesperson for the Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works, says that it is the responsibility of a trucking company to ensure its cargo is contained or properly secured during transport, and being found in non-compliance of this garners a fine of between $350 and $1,400.

Yukon Highways and Public Works receives three to four complaints of “similar devices” to the boom winch that killed Mr. Baker being found on the side of the road each year, but cannot site specific incidents, Ms. Stewart says.

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Mr. Baker was a celebrated traditional dancer and member of the Tagish Nation Dancers.Government of Yukon

Ms. Duquette says there’s no real way to measure the hole her brother’s absence has left in the community, as both a man and a dancer. He taught and encouraged many youth, including Ms. Duquette’s own son, David Duquette, 27. The dances Mr. Baker taught are a crucial part of their culture.

“For us, [dancing] is kind of who we are, it’s our life,” Ms. Duquette says. ”We were taught these things from the time we could walk, it’s passed down from generation to generation…. A lot of people really looked up to [Ken Baker].”

“I was very proud of him. He had friends from all walks of life.”

As part of the mourning process, the Tagish Nation Dancers have not performed since his death, Ms. Duquette says. They will dance again for the first time at a gathering in Alaska in June, marking a full year since the accident.

“After that, we’re not supposed to cry any more,” Ms. Duquette says, pausing for thought. “I don’t know if I, personally, will be ready.”

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