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Malahat driver lucky to be alive, can't forget Monday's near-death crash

Mitch Wright was fortunate to walk away from the wreckage of his Jetta following a crash that closed the Malahat Monday night. - courtesy Mitch Wright
Mitch Wright was fortunate to walk away from the wreckage of his Jetta following a crash that closed the Malahat Monday night.
— image credit: courtesy Mitch Wright

Mitch Wright knew his car was going to hit the Chev Cavalier coming sideways toward his VW.

But he had no time to react.

"Honestly, we didn't have a chance to see anything coming," the Ladysmith resident said of Monday's 5:20 p.m. crash on a dry Malahat Drive. "We saw the car in front of us literally at the last second — it was there then we hit it. There wasn't even time to have your life flash before your eyes."

Then came the bang that totalled Wright's northbound 2004 Jetta north of Whittaker Road.

"The other (southbound) vehicle was hidden by the big Slegg Lumber truck, that's why we did see anything until that vehicle was in front of us. The Cavalier was trying to pass (the southbound truck) on the right, clipped it, then fired toward us," Wright said of the Chev driver's move where pavement narrows. "I'm not sure if I even had time to hit the brakes. I just thought 'We're going to hit this car'," said Wright, 39.

UVic staffer Wright, and his 28-year-old girlfriend, are suffering aches and pains with a week off work, while RCMP investigate exactly why the wreck happened.

Meanwhile, the government is doing some investigating of its own.

Monday’s collision, and the Malahat’s triple fatality in October, prompted Tuesday’s order by the transportation minister for a design review of the crash site area.

“Following the fatal accident in October, we prioritized this section of Malahat for further review. This most recent incident has moved this up in our timetable,” government spokesperson Kate Trotter said. “The Malahat Highway Safety Review, released in March 2012, didn’t recommend any immediate short-term improvements to this section of highway. In light of recent incidents, we’re revisiting that.”

A consulting firm will be hired to figure out the design and engineering, at an as-yet-to-be-determined cost. Rock bluffs, embankments and other considerations are likely to make engineering any improvements difficult.

Wright thanked his lucky stars things weren't different Monday.

"We're pretty sore, but a lot went right for us to escape," he said. "A millisecond more, and we could have been dead; the other driver could have been dead too.

"He obviously made some bad decisions to make this accident happen."

Preventing bad choices is why Wright backs fire chief Rob Patterson's demand for the Malahat's dangerous stretches to get concrete medians next.

"This driver put his life and others drivers' lives at risk. A median would have kept him in his lane — other people in the southbound lane would have been affected, but we wouldn't have hit him."

"Once the impact happened, I knew I wasn't badly hurt," said Wright, a Cowichan Search and Rescue volunteer with first-aid training.

"I didn't have any initial pain and asked my girlfriend if she was hurt. Then we thought 'Let's get out of this vehicle.' We both exited from the driver's side because the other car was sandwiched against our vehicle."

He checked his girlfriend's condition while witnesses arrived on scene.

"Then I ran back to try and check the other driver," he said of the 31-year-old Sooke male, taken to Victoria hospital with head and limb injuries. "I could hear he was conscious and groaning, but I couldn't get to him. I wanted to tell him help was coming. I could see him in the wreckage."

Remains if the 2003 Cavalier were later cut away by Malahat firefighters using the Jaws of Life.

Meanwhile, Wright can't shake the memory of his first big accident.

"I won't lie; I've been reliving the mental trauma of it."

 

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