A dramatic accident on Christmas Eve sent two sisters down the bank and into Cottonwood Creek just outside Nelson.
It was early afternoon when Julie Lawrence and her sister Kristi Pepperdine, who was visiting from Victoria for Christmas, were headed toward Salmo when their Toyota 4-Runner hit a patch of ice and they lost control.
“It was beautiful and sunny and warm and all of a sudden the road was just so slick. We started to fishtail,” Lawrence told the Star. “You feel completely helpless.”
Their car rolled down the bank and landed in Cottonwood Creek and the two women were trapped inside. It was an incredible ordeal for the sisters who spent the next few days feeling extremely grateful. They spent Christmas with their family thankful to be alive.
“Both my sister and I are here today, intact and well and very grateful to be able to tell this story,” Lawrence said.
Emergency responders, including Nelson Fire Department wearing waders, were able to stabilize the vehicle in the freezing creek water.
“Looking at each other astonished, and confused — Are we ok? — My sister and I held onto each other’s hands tightly with the sound of rushing water too close for comfort,” said Lawrence.
Pepperdine was against the passenger door as the car lay on its side in the creek. Water was rushing past her amazingly unbroken window.
“It was the only window that didn’t break in the car,” said Lawrence.
Other crews set up ladders to traverse the creek and provide better access up and down the bank.
With the vehicle stabilized the women, who grew up in Nelson, were able to exit onto the ladder across the creek and come back up the bank where BC Ambulance personnel treated them. Thankfully, they were okay except for the emotional trauma that stuck with them over the holidays.
“How do you bring up such a horrific tale that you have not a scratch to show for? People ask how your Christmas was and you say, ‘Beautiful, full of gratitude, love and disbelief’ or ‘Magical, the way it should be,’ or ‘Simple and complete, full of sister cuddles.’”
“Or, ‘It started with a scary carnival ride Christmas eve — one that spins you into a dark, tumbling slow motion time warp. It was silent, except for the sounds of crunching metal around you and breaking of glass. Black thoughts. And, then awakening not knowing quite where you are,’” Lawrence wrote in reflection to the Star.
The women are thankful — not only to the emergency responders who “quickly, compassionately and skillfully” helped them out of their vehicle to safety — to a man who appeared and stayed with them until further help arrived. They don’t know who he was, just that his presence made a huge difference to the visibly upset sisters.
“He had on a yellow safety vest and was so calm and controlled,” said Lawrence.
There were two additional accidents that day on the same stretch of highway. The first incident the vehicle had just slid off of the road and passersby had helped push them out of the ditch. The second incident the vehicle had ended up on its roof. Fortunately there were no injuries in either of these incidents.
Another accident involving a logging truck and an elderly driver earlier in December happened along that stretch as well. No one was injured in this case either but Lawrence wonders if it’s only a matter of time.
“Fortunately, we were all very lucky this day. But, do we need to consider more proactive, preventive road maintenance practices?” she asked. “Do those sections of our highways that are prone to black ice need to be better identified for high priority maintenance? Could more sand on our roads have prevented all of this?”