Esgenoôpetitj teen who died in crash remembered as respectful, athletic

·4 min read
Nineteen-year-old Neil Linklater died at the scene of a head-on collision on Highway 11 on his way home in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation for the weekend. (Submitted by Jean-Claude Robichaud - image credit)
Nineteen-year-old Neil Linklater died at the scene of a head-on collision on Highway 11 on his way home in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation for the weekend. (Submitted by Jean-Claude Robichaud - image credit)

Neil Linklater was on his way to visit his family for the weekend. But an hour away from his childhood home in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, the 19-year-old collided head-on with another vehicle and never made it there.

He was one of two people to die in the crash early Friday morning, the other an unidentified 34-year-old man from Saint-Charles, N.B.

Neil was also one of three people to die on that stretch of highway near Bouctouche in less than a week.

Neil's father, David Linklater Sr. said his son was respectful, kind, and a superb athlete.

"He was well loved and he loved everybody," Linklater said.

Neil Linklater is remembered as an athletic young man who was studying to be a correctional officer.
Neil Linklater is remembered as an athletic young man who was studying to be a correctional officer.(Submitted by Jean-Claude Robichaud)

Linklater said the response on social media has been overwhelming, with people reaching out from as far as Sri Lanka to give their condolences and share memories of Neil.

"A lot of people cried," he said.

He said his son was the literal poster child for his high school hockey team. He was the assistant captain of the Miramichi Valley Boys Pulamoo hockey team, and a photo of him wearing the blue-and-gold jersey and learning on his hockey stick was used as the poster for the team.

"He was an all-around athlete. He was good in sports. He went to the North American Indigenous Games," David Linklater said.

Stephen Dunfield, assistant coach of the hockey team, knewn Neil for about a decade. Dunfield said he was a role model to his teammates.

"The kids absolutely loved him. He was he was a leader. He didn't lead so much by by what he said, but he led with his actions," he said.

Dunfield said the team was conflicted about whether to play their game Friday night. But they did.

"They thought that's what Neil would want them to do," Dunfield said. "They didn't win the game. But they played for Neil."

'I'm glad we did'

Neil Linklater graduated from Miramichi Valley High School, and was taking policing and correctional courses at Oulton College.

Hesitating before speaking, David Linklater said he was looking forward to seeing his son this weekend. They always said they loved each other before parting ways.

"I'm glad we did," he said.

David Linklater said he's been spending time at Neil's grandmother's house, where the community has been visiting to show their support, bringing food and condolences. He said the family will hold a wake at the house this Thursday and Friday and the funeral will be held on Saturday.

"He was a complete gentleman," he said. "He would even hold doors open for anybody, if he was near a doorway he would open it up for them."

'Corridor of death'

The government has been implementing a 10-year twinning project for Route 11 since 2014.

The province's strategy has been to twin the sections most heavily travelled, then upgrade the rest of the route "as funding becomes available," according to the province's website.

When the 2019 budget was unveiled, it was announced that the twinning would not extend to Bouctouche.

Liberal Kent South MLA Benoit Bourque said he's heard complaints from constituents about the highway. He said the two-lane structure and high traffic means people try to pass and sometimes get in high-speed collisions.

"Every year there's always, I don't know, maybe six, seven, eight," he said. "I know there's always some accidents."

Neil Linklater, 19, died in a collision on Highway 11 near Bouctouche. He's remembered as a respectful, polite athlete. He was the assistant captain at the Miramichi Valley Boys Pulamoo hockey team for two years.
Neil Linklater, 19, died in a collision on Highway 11 near Bouctouche. He's remembered as a respectful, polite athlete. He was the assistant captain at the Miramichi Valley Boys Pulamoo hockey team for two years.(Submitted by Jean-Claude Robichaud)

Jean-Claude Robichaud taught Neil Linklater from primary until Grade 4.

"He was a mature kid," he said.

Robichaud said in 2010 his daughter and her husband were killed in a collision with a moose on that same stretch of highway where Neil died. Their son was three years old, and was in the car, but he survived. Robichaud has been raising him.

"I'm ready to call it the corridor of death," Robichaud said. "Same stretch between Shediac and Bouctouche."

He said maybe the construction project would not have saved his daughter from a moose, but he hopes it prevents more death.

"If it was four lanes, maybe the moose would have been there anyway. But surely [a four-lane highway] would have prevented head-on collisions," Robichaud said.

Bourque said the construction of the highway has passed Shediac and is almost at Cocagne, but there's still five to seven kilometres to go. The province will have to build a bridge before the highway gets anywhere near Bouctouche.

"How long it's going to take, I don't know," he said.

David Linklater said he's hoping the twinning project will keep going.

"The roads are too narrow," he said.