INNISFAIL — Members of Edmonton’s Filipino community are in grief after four temporary foreign workers were killed in a head-on crash by the driver of an SUV who RCMP believe may have been drunk as he wildly drove the wrong way down a divided highway.
The dead include two 35-year-old men, a 39-year-old woman and a 52-year-old woman. A fifth occupant of the vehicle — a 29-year-old female — sustained serious injuries and underwent surgery Monday.
The driver of the SUV walked away unhurt but was taken into custody after refusing to provide a breath test.
“It’s a very, very difficult thing,” said Esmerelda Agbulos, an honorary consul for the Philippines based in Edmonton.
“It’s horrific, because these people do not have relatives here. They’re here to work and when something like this happens, it’s a tragedy.”
Agbulos said she knew the identities of those involved but did not want to disclose them as all their relatives back home had not yet been notified.
She said all were employed at the Coast Edmonton Plaza hotel and although she wasn’t sure where each one worked, she said it could be any range of jobs from housekeeping to working the front desk.
“You leave your homeland to seek a better opportunity,” explained Agbulos. “Some of them have families of their own — they have a wife or children — and they have to support them. The wages they’re getting here helps a lot in the Philippines. They’re sacrificing everything to come here.
“We, as a community, really get together and try and help.”
The crash happened at the southern edge of Innisfail on Highway 2, the main route between Calgary and Edmonton, shortly before midnight Sunday.
RCMP Const. Doug Dewar said an off-duty police officer first noticed the SUV travelling the wrong direction on the highway between Olds and Bowden, north of Calgary.
It was swerving, Dewar said. Cars travelling the right direction moved to get out of the way.
The SUV managed to make it 20 kilometres before it crashed head-on into a Dodge Journey carrying the workers.
Four people in the car died and a fifth was taken to hospital in Edmonton for surgery.
The driver of the SUV showed signs that he had been drinking, Dewar said. The man was held in custody because he refused a breath test, the officer said.
The two vehicles were travelling at highway speeds at the time of the crash. Road conditions were good. Everyone in the crash was wearing seatbelts and all airbags worked properly, Dewar said.
“All their relatives, so far as we have been able to tell, do not reside in Canada. And so we will be dealing with a consular staff to notify family through official channels,” Dewar said.
The accident brought back memories of another recent highway tragedy involving workers who had come to Canada to earn a living.
Last month, 10 migrant farm workers from South America and a truck driver were killed in a crash in Ontario.