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Northern Manitoba politicians ask for inquest into December highway crash that killed Thompson MLA Danielle Adams

MP Niki Ashton and Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook say examining role snow-clearing and emergency response times played in MLA’s death could prevent similar tragedies in the future.
highway 6 and highway 39 junction at ponton jan 6 2022 12 noon
Highway 6 was listed as partly snow-packed from Thompson to Grand Rapids around noon Jan. 6 but northern politicians say there is often only one usable lane for hours after a significant snowfall. Some of them are asking for an inquest to be held into the Dec. 9 crash that killed Thompson MLA Danielle Adams south of Ponton to see if road-clearing practices and emergency response times played a role in her death.

At least two Northern Manitoba politicians say an inquest should be held into the Dec. 9 car accident that killed Thompson NDP MLA Danielle Adams to see if road-clearing practices and wait times for emergency medical services played a role in her death.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported Dec. 24 that Adams was alive after her SUV collided with a fuel truck but that she died of her injuries before first responders capable of dealing with them arrived.

Churchill-Keewtinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton told the Free Press that she wrote a letter to Manitoba’s chief medical examiner requesting an inquest examining the emergency response and road-clearing.

“This is about finding where the gaps were, where there were problems, and improving them,” said Ashton, for whom Adams worked as a constituency office assistant for about 10 years before being elected as Thompson’s MLA in 2019. “This is top of mind for a lot of people and they want to see answers to the serious questions that they have.”

The fatal crash occurred about 50 kilometres south of Ponton, which is about 150 kilometres southwest of Thompson. The nearest RCMP detachments are in Wabowden and Snow Lake and it took an officer nearly an hour to get to the site of the crash after being dispatched at 11:24 a.m., travelling though “very poor winter driving conditions,” Manitoba RCMP said.

Sources familiar with the circumstances told the Free Press that the SUV connected with the emergency call service of OnStar but that Adams had trouble speaking. Witnesses said 911 and emergency dispatch lines were contacted multiple times. One said one emergency responder arrived expecting a fuel leak but unaware that there was a person in critical condition.

Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook echoed Ashton’s call for an inquest and said she and other northern mayors are working on a proposal  to improve road safety in the north and hope to present their ideas to the province this month. Among the things she would like to see is an inventory of resources in each community so dispatchers know where there are helicopters that can carry stretchers or equipment needed to extricate someone from a vehicle.

Flin Flon NDP MLA Tom Lindsey said he wrote to the infrastructure minister hours before the crash about the quality of snow removal on Highway 6. Lindsey said that after a snowfall there is often only one lane  clear, either as a result of a grader clearing it or from passing semis creating tracks.

Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew, who was in Thompson’s for Adams’s visitation on Dec. 20, told the Free Press he met with the infrastructure minister and Premier Heather Stefanson to talk about emergency response times and highway clearing.

“I feel that it’s very important for us to push as the NDP for more safety on Highway 6 in particular but also more safety for northern roads and highways more generally,” Kinew told the Thompson Citizen Jan. 6. “We should definitely be looking at, in the nearer term, things like adding more passing lanes to Highway 6 and then of course, in the longer term we can look at things like twinning more of Highway 6 to make it safer. I brought that up with the premier and she has said that she wants to follow up soon. I’m definitely going to keep pushing on this. I think people across Northern Manitoba have been talking about safety concerns around Highway 6 for years and now this is one of the things I think we need to follow up on in light of Danielle’s passing. I’ve been raising at that the highest levels and I want folks in Thompson to know that we’re working hard on this and will continue to do so.”

Manitoba Infrastructure said it looks at every serious collision in an effort to identify possible safety improvements.

“Manitoba Infrastructure’s highway maintenance staff monitor road conditions in northern communities and co-ordinate snow-clearing operations within the constraints fo weather and geographic distances,” said a statement from the department to the Free Press. “The department uses a blended service delivery  model for snow-clearing operations through a combination of internal, external and local government forces.”