Jeff Struchtrup remembers when he visited the spot with family and friends in the days following the car collision that claimed his daughter’s life on the Haney Bypass on May 10, Mother’s Day.
There was a group of about eight of them and they gathered around the makeshift memorial that had flowers and well wishes piled at the base of the light pole in the concrete traffic island at Callaghan Avenue.
“We stood there looking at the memorial. It was an emotional time. But more than anything, it was scary,” Struchtrup said.
What he saw were motorists making last-minute lane changes so they could continue along the bypass rather than have to turn right. Fully loaded dump trucks barreled down the hill from Lougheed Highway as they approached the corner, just past Callaghan, which would take them on to the flats beside the Fraser River, then quickly to the other side of town.
His daughter, 15-year-old Katelynn Kirkland, was a passenger in a Volkswagen that was in collision with a Toyota pickup truck and didn’t survive.
Now Struchtrup wants to at least improve the odds for future drivers. Three others were also injured in the collision.
“I don’t want to see anybody else die here,” Struchtrup said.
“There have been so many accidents since this bypass has been built. Something has to happen here.”
He plans on going door-to-door in the area to get people to sign their support.
He and his sister, Nicole Grant, have also started the Petition for Katie’s Corner on change.org to be directed to the city to ask it to change the intersection and make it safer. Within hours of being set up, it had 250 signatures.
The petition says the road needs to be widened into four lanes, maybe a traffic light installed and speeds lowered.
“Let’s slow down drivers on this big hill that requires 60 km/h speeds,” the petition urges.
Grant also said a gofundme campaign has been started to help the family with expenses while a memorial commemorating Katelynn’s life takes place this Friday, May 22, at 8 p.m. at Pitt Meadows sports fields, near Bonson Park, Field No. 2. People are asked to bring a balloon and a candle.
“Too young, too short, that’s a bad left-hand turn,” Grant said.
Struchtrup said his daughter’s older sister, Taylor, is coping, with the help of family and friends.
“Katelynn was her best friend. I think this has hit her harder than anybody. It’s going to take her a long time to get over it – not get over it – but just heal from it.”
Grandparents Bill and Carol Kirkland, mother Shannon Kirkland are also mentioned on the petition site.
With the police investigation ongoing, Struchtrup wants to focus on what he can do.
“For the time being, I’m just trying to put everything I got into this other huge issue, which is this intersection.”
But it’s been tough on him as well, he adds.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, right.”
Katelynn donated three organs, two kidneys and a liver, to help those on the organ transplant wait list, her dad added.
From the latest he’s heard from the B.C. Transplant, all three recipients are doing well.
“It was a very special gift to be able to help other families in our time of loss. It’s huge, right?
“I try to envision, maybe it was a girl Katelynn’s age [for whom] we helped save a life.”
Struchtrup’s efforts to increase safety at the corner of Callaghan and the Haney Bypass are being aided by Port Haney resident Ian McLeod, who, after the accident, wrote a letter to MLA Doug Bing, asking his support in making safety improvements to the bypass.
It wasn’t the first time McLeod had lobbied for something to be done.
“I was reminded of the letter I wrote to you in February 2014 about the frequent crack-ups and near-misses at this corner. Our elderly neighbour had just walked away from a pile-up that he was lucky to survive,” McLeod told Bing.
McLeod said the 600-metre curb lane ends abruptly at the concrete island at Callaghan Avenue. That can cause inattentive drivers to swerve into the centre lane suddenly. “This randomizing of driver behaviour puts all traffic directions at risk.”
McLeod again referred to his 2014 note in which he said overhead and pavement signage was needed to signal that the curb lane is not a through lane.
“A couple of small right-lane-must-exit signs were tacked up. They may have helped slightly, but it’s not enough.”
He says the right lane can be blocked farther up the hill, or the ministry can buy land and extend the right lane to beyond Callaghan. It could also install traffic lights or build a roundabout at the intersection.
Bing replied that this March, he and MLA Marc Dalton, Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read and municipal engineer David Pollock met with Transportation Minister Todd Stone to discuss how to improve safety on the Lougheed Highway. However, the letter would be relevant to the discussions, Bing added.
According to ICBC’s traffic statistics page, the intersection has a low number of accidents.
Between 2009 and 2013, there have been only 15 accidents of all types in at that location. However, the other end of the bypass, at Kanaka Way-Haney Bypass and Lougheed Highway, has the largest number of accidents, 396, in Maple Ridge during that period.