After spending two sleepless nights stuck on a forest service road in the rugged mountains east of Williams Lake, a Campbell River long haul truck driver is very grateful he was rescued by loggers and police.
Vince Leroux, 53, was so convinced he wasn’t going to make it off the snowy, remote Barkerville-Likely Road alive that he recorded his last will and testament on his cell phone as well as wrote a few final words to his daughter and two grandchildren, telling them he loved them.
“I prepared goodbye notes on video on my phone,” Leroux said from a Williams Lake motel Wednesday.
“I also wrote a note on a piece of paper and attached it to my phone with an elastic band that said ‘if you find my body make sure this phone gets to my daughter.’”
|Long haul truck driver Vince Leroux was stranded for three days on the Barkerville-Likely Road, shown on the map in purple. Leroux was headed through the Interior to Chetwynd when he attempted to take the remote detour to evade the CVSE weigh stations because he was at his maximum hours. Map courtesy of the Cariboo Regional District
Leroux’s journey began Saturday night when he left Abbotsford with his Freightliner headed for the north.
While travelling through the Interior Sunday morning, the 20-year veteran truck driver made the fateful decision to bypass a section of Highway 97 by turning east to the small logging community of Likely, and then north onto the seasonal forest service road, the 8400 Road, to Barkerville.
Leroux said he had been on mountain roads before and thought he could make it.
“That was my big mistake.”
Leroux managed to get about 40 kilometres down the road before he ran into trouble.
“It was Sunday that I got stuck on top of the mountain. I actually left the B-trains halfway up. I suffered chest pains so I unhooked my B-trains and I thought ‘I have to get to the hospital.’ But I couldn’t get back around my [trailers] so I just drove straight which was a mistake because I drove 80 kilometres and ended up sliding off the road where if I would have went any more forward or backwards I would have went over an embankment and down to a lake so I stopped there.”
Leroux said more than a foot of snow fell that first night near Maeford Lake and he even encountered wildlife, which initially he had mistaken for someone’s pet and that he was getting rescued.
“Then I realized ‘wait, that’s not a dog that’s a wolf’.”
It was after that experience that Leroux realized just how alone and in trouble he really was, and the deep pain of regret over his decision and predicament started to seep in.
Leroux thought about his daughter, and the two young grandchildren he feared he wouldn’t see again. He drafted letters to them and also made the videos of his last wishes.
Though he didn’t even have a lighter, Leroux did think of ways to prolong his survival.
On Monday he gathered all the plastic in his truck and lit it on fire with an electrical spark in hopes someone might see the black smoke.
When that didn’t work he calculated he had about a week’s worth of diesel if he used it sparingly, so he would start the truck every few hours to warm up the cab which became a survival shelter for him.
“It has a sleeper but I didn’t do much sleeping. I did a lot of panicking. I was just praying someone would come along.”
Leroux also collected his water bottles and divided up the few protein bars he had in his truck to last several days. He even found a small bag of dog food he carried for his dog, who wasn’t with him on the trip.
|Ryan Tugnum of Williams Lake and his company are helping the stranded trucker retrieve his truck and trailers after he was struck for three days on a remote mountain pass east of Williams Lake and rescued by the RCMP and Conservation Officer Service. Angie Mindus photo
“I was saving that for last. I’m a pretty big guy so I knew I could live off my reserves for a while,” he joked. “It was a different experience for sure.”
Meanwhile, while Leroux was holding out hope on the mountain, his boss was calling the RCMP to report him missing with his last known location, according to GPS, at Likely.
Also unbeknownst to him a local logging crew in the area had discovered his trailers in the middle of the road and started looking for their own answers, taking pictures of the trailers and posting them to social media.
At 1:57 p.m. Monday Ryan Tugnum posted photos of Leroux’s trailers on Facebook and contacted the police with the licence plate number.
Leroux said he was inside his truck at about 4 p.m. Tuesday after three long days of being stranded, when he saw the lights and then what he describes as the “beautiful faces” of two RCMP officers, Const. Gallagher, Const. Grewal and CO Jared Connatty, who rescued the thankful trucker near Maeford Lake down the 8400 Road.
“That’s the first time in my life I ever hugged an RCMP officer,” Leroux said of the moment he was rescued. “When I was young I used to cause the police a lot of grief. I look at them in a different light now, and I just appreciate them very much.”
On Wednesday, Leroux began looking for maps to see where he had been, and contacted the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association where he spoke with Geoff Moore.
Moore was listening to Leroux, and having seen Tugnum’s post about the trailer, put two and two together.
|RCMP Const. Gallagher, RCMP Const. Grewal and CO Jared Connatty are heroes, according to stranded trucker Vince Leroux, who snapped the photo during his rescue on a remote road east of Williams Lake. Photo submitted
“I was like, ‘wait a second,’ I gotta help this guy,” said Moore.
Moore told Leroux about the role Tugnum played in his rescue and gave information to connect the two.
Leroux was speechless and his boss in Abbotsford was brought to tears when Tugnum told them they would take Leroux back to the truck Thursday and retrieve the truck and trailers using their logging equipment.
But, he said, he always knew there were “good people in Williams Lake.”
“It’s a great story,” said Moore. “People make mistakes. This is more of a cautionary tale of why you need communication in the backcountry. It’s also a great story about community. People not only cared enough to ask to questions when they saw the trailers, they also are sticking around to help him out.”