Andrew van der Westhuizen was biking down to pick up his young daughter from the school bus when an accident changed his life forever.
The Kamloops, B.C., man was riding down a divided multi-use path from the city’s Juniper neighbourhood when he collided with an industrial truck on the afternoon of May 11. He’s been in hospital in critical care in Vancouver since the crash.
Now his wife is sharing their story in hopes of preventing another cycling tragedy, by getting the city to reconsider how it approaches multi-use infrastructure.
Most pressingly, Jen van der Westhuizen is looking for answers as to why large trucks would be allowed to regularly cross a multi-use lane used by cyclists.
The City of Kamloops has identified that vulnerable road users like cyclists are over-represented in high-severity crashes — being involved in 14 per cent of all crashes, but making up 50 per cent of major injury and fatal crashes.
Earlier this year, the Interior city committed to try to reduce accidents on its roads to zero, including collisions involving bikes and pedestrians. So far, it has gathered survey information from residents about their collisions and is now gathering more data.
Jen said her in-laws were visiting the week of the crash, so the whole family had planned to bike down to pick up the couple’s eldest daughter from the school bus. They were running late so she went ahead to make sure someone would be there when the bus arrived.
She was waiting at the bottom of the hill when she got a call from another mom saying there had been an accident and traffic was blocked in both directions.
She assumed Andrew would be helping out since he has a medical background, being a radiologist at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.
She waited with a group of children, but started to get worried when her calls didn’t get through to Andrew and her mother-in-law. Finally she reached her father-in-law, who told her Andrew was in the crash.
She said police officers in an unmarked vehicle witnessed the crash and called it in immediately, meaning first responders were able to start providing care as soon as possible.
“Those moments at that period of time made all the difference,” Jen said.
Andrew was taken to hospital with severe abdominal injuries and a major concussion. Kamloops staff stabilized him enough to be flown to Vancouver.
‘He continues to amaze us’
Since the crash, he’s undergone six surgeries at Vancouver General Hospital and received more than 50 units of blood.
More than a month after the crash, he is awake but remains in critical care and is still not speaking.
“He has a little bit of a wave that he can wave and he gives us a smile and a smirk,” Jen said.
It’s still not clear what the extent of Andrew’s recovery will be, though Jen and the medical team are hopeful he will be able to continue with a quality of life similar to before the accident.
“He’s amazed all his specialists, all his doctors and he continues to amaze us that he’s still here and he’s still with us and still fighting to get back to us,” Jen said.
Jen said the experience has shown the huge value in having an organ donation list and blood bank in place — and it’s also highlighted the seriousness of staffing challenges for health-care workers in Kamloops, which was part of the reason Andrew was flown to Vancouver.
“Kamloops didn’t have the equipment and the support and the staffing to do the kind of operations that Andrew needed,” Jen said.
She would like to see the province do more to help the health-care system through a bigger push to recruit and retain workers in the city.
Cycling safety questioned
Jen is also deeply concerned about the factors that led to her husband’s crash.
Industrial trucks are allowed to cross the bike path as part of a major development and expansion that is happening in Juniper.
“This should be the safest bike route that we have seen in Kamloops … because it is fully partitioned from the road, but then the decision to put a huge construction site that runs five days a week and runs trucks every five minutes at least crossing that lane just astounds me,” she said.
Kamloops Cycling Coalition founder Cheryl Fraser agrees.
“That something like this could have happened on a multi-use path — it just makes you question as a cyclist and a vulnerable road user, where are you safe?” she said.
There are clearly marked signs on both the roadway and the multi-use path indicating that there are trucks in the area. There are also speed limits on the path that limit cyclist speed to 20 km/h.
However, Fraser wants to make sure the city is updating cycling infrastructure appropriately and ensuring that the safety of all users are considered.
For that to happen, cyclists have to speak up, she said.
“We need to be more vocal about how the city and the general public are treating vulnerable road users,” she said.
“Nothing’s going to change if the city doesn’t hear from the citizens.”
Fraser says education and policy change are critical in helping to prevent future crashes involving cyclists.
As part of the Vision Zero initiative to reduce road accidents, city staff are continuing to collect stories of people who have been involved in crashes and will present this information — along with collision data review, crash analyses and input from industry partners — to council this fall.
“Our sincere thoughts and wishes are with the Van der Westhuizen family during this difficult time,” the City of Kamloops said in a written statement.
“The city is committed to improving the safety of our active transportation and roadway network and recognizes that cyclists and pedestrians are more vulnerable to serious injuries or fatalities in a collision.”
RCMP say the investigation into the collision between Andrew van der Westhuizen and the truck is continuing.
Daybreak Kamloops17:23Feature Interview: Kamloops man still recovering after cycling crash in Juniper
Andrew van der Westhuizen of Kamloops remains in hospital in Vancouver. It’s been almost a month now, since he collided with a construction truck while riding his bike down Highland Drive in Juniper. We got an update from his wife – Jen.