An outpouring of love and heartbreak flowed on the West Coast after Thursday’s tragic wreck that claimed the life of Lorraine Ennis.
The tragedy shocked the community where Ennis was a pillar, widely known for devotion to her family, her church and her neighbours.
Sgt. Jeff Swann was called to the scene around 8 a.m. on Thursday, and dread welled up as he realized, like other responders on the way, he knew the victim.
“I talked to her almost every day,” Swann said.
“She was a fixture in this community … I’ve heard from people who said they could tell they were late for their morning commute by where she was walking on that trail,” he said.
“There’s no words that can say how sad we feel for the family. It’s a sad, sad day,” Swann said.
Authorities have seized an SUV, trailer and boat involved in the accident.
The driver of the older model Suburban was one of three commercial clam fishers headed to fish out of Ucluelet, said Swann. They were coming to Ucluelet from Toquart Bay, where the boat had been stored. They had planned to launch it from Toquart, but the launch was closed so they came to Ucluelet with the intent of launching from there, Swann said.
They were almost there when something went terribly wrong. At the crest of a curving hill, witnesses told Swann, the trailer started fish-tailing and within just a hundred feet or so, and the out-of-control vehicle’s trailer struck Ennis, 78, who was taking her usual walk from the Junction into town. “She had her bright yellow jacket on … She was just walking down the road, the vehicle lost control and ran into her. She was killed instantly,” said Swann. “She’s bright, she’s visible, she’s 15 feet off the roadway. It’s a question nobody can come to grips with … To have this happen at this exact moment when she’s here (walking the trail), it’s beyond words … It’s beyond fathoming at this point, for all of us.”
Witnesses told the RCMP she never saw it coming.
Despite efforts to administer first aid and CPR, Ennis died at the scene.
“The bystanders need to be credited for doing their very best,” said Swann.
The driver and his companions were cooperative, Swann said.
“They stopped, they were super cooperative, they were remorseful and sad,” he said.
Questions linger in the wake of Ennis’s death.
The investigation into the tragic wreck will be multi-faceted, said Swann. Collision and traffic analysts were called in, a translator was required for the occupants of the vehicle – who didn’t speak English – and then those transcripts had to be interpreted back into English.
“All we do know is the vehicle, boat and trailer have been seized by the police and they’re in Port Alberni,” he said.
The RCMP are hoping to talk with any witnesses who may have information regarding the accident or the vehicle involved. One of the first questions to be answered will be is that boat licensed for the trailer for the Gross Vehicle Weight, Swann said, and how everything was hooked up, whether or not there were brakes, he said.
“We had tons of questions, very important pertinent questions. Now we’re waiting for the translation – it’s getting transcribed,” Swann said.
The boat stayed on the trailer the entire time, although a smaller boat that was loaded atop it came off, along with an anchor and some fishing gear, Swann said.
If the RCMP come to believe an offense occurred, the matter will be referred to Crown counsel, Swann said.
Pastor Miles White of Christ Community Church said Ennis was an outstanding member of his congregation.
“She was just so vibrant and live – remarkable for age 78, to be walking that path, every day, eight kilometres from the junction into town.
“She was such a part of the fabric of the community here. Every morning interacting with parents, with kids at school and teachers – she’d be waving at you.
“Everybody’s in shock. Lorraine is obviously somebody you don’t replace. They’re a gift, you have them for a while and you don’t know how long. It makes you hold the ones you love a little closer,” White said.
“It’s a blow to everybody, to be sure.”