From The Gazette

Pointe-Claire

Ambulance gutted by flames on Highway 20 crash; driver of other vehicle to face charges

This story has been updated.

It began shortly before 3:30 a.m. Friday — as a simple single-vehicle accident in Pointe Claire.

A westbound motorist along Highway 20 later detained for impaired driving plowed into a flashing-arrow sign near the Cartier Ave. exit. He also knocked over a few of those familiar orange traffic-diversion cones.

But the incident culminated as a three-vehicle mishap — with an Urgences Santé ambulance engulfed in flames.

The ambulance was reduced to a smoking, burnt-out ruin after it rear-ended the car of a Good Samaritan who had halted to assist.

According to the ambulance crew, the Good Samaritan hadn’t activated his hazard lights.

This could not be independently confirmed.

The bizarre chain reaction left no major injuries.

It did trigger plenty of unanswered questions.

The morning multi-vehicle mess also diverted traffic flow westbound via St. John’s Blvd. for several of the wee hours. Normalcy was restored about 6 a.m. Friday, in time for the a.m. rush hour.

The first driver has been taken into custody by the Sûreté du Québec. He will face multiple criminal charges after he was given a breath test for alcohol, SQ Sgt. Gino Paré said.

The first 911 call was received at 3:28 a.m., Paré said, after the driver being charged struck a portable flashing sign, followed by a series of road cones on one lane of the highway.

“A Good Samaritan stopped to help,” Paré added.

That second car was then struck by an (Urgences Santé) ambulance” also heading westbound.

“And then,” Paré added, “the second car hit the first car.”

The two-person ambulance crew was on their mid-shift meal break, without any patient aboard, said Stéphane Smith, an Urgences spokesperson.

The paramedics were the only persons on site requiring treatment, he added.

“They got out of their ambulance and then the fire became apparent,” Smith said, relaying reports he’d received from the scene.

Both were taken to hospital with what Smith described as “minor back and neck injuries.”

“Each paramedic went in a separate ambulance” and each was discharged from hospital about 9:30 a.m., spokesperson David Sasson of Urgences said.

“We don’t know why the fire started,” Sasson added: “There will obviously be an investigation.”

Meanwhile, though, “we’re speculating that the fire started due to the accident, through the engine block, and spread. That’s the only hypothesis we can come up with.”

“But once the fire spread, of course the (oxygen) tanks caught fire. That’s equipment we use on a daily basis. The oxygen wasn’t the cause of the fire, but was implicated in the fire once the fire started.”

The complete torching of the ambulance, “the severity of the damage, was more because of the fire, not necessarily because of the (immediate) damages due to the accident,” Sasson added.

Asked whether the ambulance could have been speeding, Sasson said he was told by the crew Friday morning that it wasn’t:

“They were driving non-emergency,” he said, “so they were just following the speed limit,” possibly headed to a standard West Island standby point on St. Charles Blvd., near Highway 40.

“We don’t know where the (Good Samaritan’s) vehicle was stopped, in the left lane or the right lane or the centre lane. We don’t have that information,” Sasson recounted: “Everything just happened so fast.”

“We do know his vehicle was disabled,” Sasson said of the Good Samaritan:

“It was on the highway.

“There were no hazards.

“There were no lights on.

“And it was 3:30 in the morning and dark.”

Paré of the SQ didn’t have any information on whether the hazard lights were on for one or both of the two cars struck.

During his past dozen years with Urgences, spokesperson Smith said, “I can’t recall any incident like this.”

Sasson has been at Urgences for just over twice that duration, some 25 years.

While he recalls a number of ambulance accidents, he said none that ended with this level of ultimate damage came immediately to mind.

The ambulance, two or three years old, is a writeoff.

Such vehicles are normally sold to first-response services in developing nations after “four to five years … depending on the mileage,” Sasson said.

Urgences Santé covers Montreal Island and Laval with a fleet of about 150 ambulances. Their replacement cost is about $140,000 apiece.

Paré of the SQ said he could not immediately provide the age or city of residence of the first driver; whether the man was alone in the vehicle; whether he had been returning from a bar or a private residence; or whether he has any record of similar earlier infractions.

The hazard-lights question; the speeds involved; sign placement; the lane or lanes blocked off; and other details also remained unclear.

More details might be available later, Paré said.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>