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.
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.
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.