Local fatality a preventable tragedy

Tim Kleinsasser was a 60-year-old father of eight and a member of the Crystal Springs Hutterite colony near Ste. Agathe. To his friends both on and off the colony, Tim had a personality that is best described as larger than life.

On the evening of November 5, Tim’s life came to an abrupt end when his pickup truck plunged into a deep canal.

The fatality occurred at the intersection of Krahn Road and Doerksen Road in the RM of Ritchot. The reason that Tim’s journey along Krahn Road was fatally interrupted that is that a bridge was missing, and there was a lack of adequate signage to mark the danger zone.

According to neighbours who farm in the area, the bridge has been missing for about five years now, destroyed with fire by vandals.

For about as long, the missing structure, known as the D20 bridge, has been on the province’s list of infrastructure waiting for replacement. The Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure website references the project but offers no date for the bridge’s construction or completion.

“We’ve been lobbying for this since my first year on council,” Ritchot mayor Chris Ewen says. “We’ve communicated with the province asking for this bridge to get rebuilt and we continue to lobby to get that bridge done.”

For years, the only indications that the bridge is missing were checkered dead-end signs erected on the north- and south-facing sides of the canal. One mile south, where Highway 305 turns onto Krahn Road, another sign is attached to the opposite side of the corner stop sign. It faces Highway 305 and indicates: Bridge Out.

Sometime during the past few months, though, the checkered warning sign on the south-facing side of the canal went missing and no one is quite sure how or why. Only the stump of a signpost was left.

Members of the St. Pierre-Jolys RCMP attended the accident scene along with other emergency personnel on the night of Tim’s untimely passing. According to the police report, his vehicle made impact while travelling at full speed.

“It appears the male was not aware the road ended, as there were no visible attempts made to stop the vehicle,” the report states.

Tim was declared deceased on the scene.

Ian Kleinsasser is also a member of the Crystal Springs colony, located southwest of the accident scene. He and others from the community visited the site the morning following Tim’s tragic death, looking for clues as to what happened that night.

Based on Ian’s best guess, Tim must have turned onto Krahn Road in error that night, not realizing which road he was about to drive along when he did so.

Ian says Tim travelled north along these gravel roads often and he had known that Krahn was not currently a through road. Normally, Tim would have taken Wallace Road to the west or Loeppky Road to the east of it.

Ian also has a theory about why Tim missed the “bridge out” sign when he first turned onto Krahn Road. Had Tim been travelling eastward on Highway 305, which they suspect he was, his headlights wouldn’t have lit on the warning sign as he made the left turn. Once the turn has been made, there are no further signs along Krahn Road indicating that a bridge is out ahead.

Since that day, the missing dead-end sign has been replaced with a new one. Just beneath it hangs a floral arrangement in memory of the husband, father, and friend who died here.

“The fact that the sign was missing in a very dangerous area [is a problem],” Ian says. “If you drive up to that area, the road slightly rises and it looks like the road actually continues when it doesn’t. You don’t see the ditch, especially at night.”

This intersection, in fact, is only one of a few in the area where a bridge was removed and never replaced. Within a five-mile radius of the accident site, at least three more such intersections exist.

One of them is located exactly two miles west on Levesque Road. All of these intersections are marked by similar dead-end signs but no barricades. Only one of these other bridges is listed on the province’s infrastructure website for replacement at this time.

Just over a week after Tim’s accident, people are still trying to reconcile the senseless nature of his passing.

“People are just absolutely devastated,” Ian says. “Tim had his fingers in so many things in the community.”

Tim was, in fact, instrumental in managing the HR division of a large industrial company located on the colony.

He regularly interviewed and hired workers from outside the community, giving him a broad base of friends and acquaintances from surrounding communities and other colonies. For this reason, the sadness of his loss reverberates far beyond the colony’s borders.

To Ian, Tim represented a man of integrity and love in action.

“If Tim saw that someone was struggling and needed help, he’d be the first one there to help,” Ian recalls. “He had an incredibly big heart.”

An outpouring of support for Tim’s family has come in from all around the province, Ian adds. Many have reached out to share heart-warming stories of Tim’s impact on their lives—stories of a man who was generous, humble, and selfless.

“His sons have mentioned that that’s an aspect of their father’s legacy that they want to keep alive,” Ian says. “To take up the responsibility of seeing when somebody needs a friend and to be that friend.”

But members of the community hope that the province will finally act so that no one else will meet Tim’s fate at these intersections without bridges. A sign is not enough, Ian says. If not a bridge, then a well-marked barricade is in order.

The Citizen reached out to Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure for a response. To date, none has been forthcoming.

“We’ve heard people say that somebody should be punished for this, but I think the family and most of the community are saying, ‘We’re not going to let this anger us. We’ll rather choose to be forgiving,’” says Ian. “People make mistakes and it’s so unfortunate that somebody lost their life, but are we going to make it any better if we seek vengeance? I think the answer is a resounding ‘No.’”

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen