Restigouche mother blames son's death on state of roads

Guylaine Fournier lost her son on Sunday in a crash in Restigouche County in northern New Brunswick. She said she's speaking out about the lack of proper road maintainance because she doesn't want to see anyone else die. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Guylaine Fournier lost her son on Sunday in a crash in Restigouche County in northern New Brunswick. She said she's speaking out about the lack of proper road maintainance because she doesn't want to see anyone else die. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Twenty-year-old Ritchie Fournier died in a three-vehicle crash on an icy highway in northern New Brunswick. His friend Bobby Sullivan is in the hospital after the same crash, and both of their families believe the tragedy could have been avoided by proper road maintenance.

On Sunday, RCMP said, two people died and two were injured after a crash between two pickup trucks and an SUV on Highway 17 in Robinsonville. The crash, about 30 kilometres southwest of Campbellton, happened at about 10 a.m.

Ritchie's mother Guylaine Fournier recounts getting the call from police about her son and what felt like the longest drive in her life.

"Shock" and "denial," Fournier said after she stopped at the scene of the crash and got out of the car. She said she had to "skate" to the police officers to recover her son's personal items.

Her son didn't stand a chance, she said.

Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada
Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada

Fournier has regularly driven that stretch of highway between Campbellton and Kedgwick for 15 years. She said that some places are well known for being badly maintained. But there was no reason for the road to be in such bad shape by mid-morning, she said.

Ritchie didn't get on the road during a storm, she said. He got on the road on Sunday morning, when the skies were clear and they'd assumed at least one salt truck had passed.

CBC has asked the Department of Transportation for details about what, if any, road maintenance took place on Sunday.

At the legislature on Tuesday, Jeff Carr, the department minister, said he didn't have the "full scope of what happened" in the crashes on the weekend. Two women were killed in a crash in northeastern New Brunswick.

Carr said he spoke to MLAs in the area and is waiting to hear from his department about the need for improvements if  maintenance was an issue.

He said he doesn't have details on the quantity of salt that was used in the Robinsonville area on Sunday.

"I think that a little extra salt or sand outweighs, obviously, life at any time," said Carr. "So when I get to the details on the staffing services or levels, or how much salt or sand was used, I'll be sharing that with the two MLAs."

'My son didn't die for nothing'

Fournier is speaking out because she said her son's life shouldn't end for nothing, and something has to change to make the roads safer.

"If I can save a life, at least I would tell myself that my son did not die for nothing," Fournier told Radio-Canada in French.

Guylaine Fournier said she filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure and has asked for an explanation.

According to her, the department told her that a worker had been on the road the day before and that the calcium and salt mix, used for melting ice, may have frozen overnight.

Isac Theriault/Facebook
Isac Theriault/Facebook

According to RCMP, the crash happened after the driver of a pickup truck crossed the centre line and collided head-on with another pickup truck.

The RCMP said the driver of the SUV "was unable to stop in time and collided with one of the pickup trucks."

An RCMP spokesperson said Sunday that roads were extremely icy at the time of the collision.

Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada
Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada

The two pickup truck drivers, Fournier and a 35-year-old man, died on the scene. Two more people were taken to hospital with serious injuries, including Fournier's friend Bobby Sullivan.

Sullivan's grandmother Micheline Sullivan said that after several operations, her grandson is finally out of danger.

She told Radio-Canada he will be fine, but he doesn't yet know that he's lost a friend.

She said it's time for the government to review its road maintenance budget in Restigouche.

"It's all surpluses, and we pay attention to money, and money, and money. But my God, it's us who are losing our children," she told Radio-Canada in French.

A social media call, mayors speak out

Chantal Hachey, a resident of Saint-Arthur, was one of the first people to arrive at the scene of the accident Sunday.

While waiting for the arrival of first responders, she tried to help the victims, but because of the icy road she could barely walk, and had difficulty getting to them. She's taken to social media to ask residents to make their voices heard and call for better road maintenance.

Kedgwick Mayor Éric Gagnon said he's also shaken by the loss of two fellow residents. He said he doesn't understand why Highway 17 was in such bad shape Sunday morning.

Jean-Guy Levesque, the current mayor of Atholville and recently elected mayor of the Regional Community of Campbellton, agreed.

Levesque said the entire region of northern New Brunswick is affected by this lack of road maintenance and asks the province to act immediately.

"What we ask of them is to treat us equally," Levesque told Radio-Canada in French. "We pay taxes in northern New Brunswick too, we are there to contribute to the economy, we want to have a return. Ane here we are, talking about safety, we are not talking about esthetics."