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Area residents question barricade safety prior to deadly crash

'My husband has said several times when looking at the construction zone that it was a disaster waiting to happen,' says south-end Barrie resident

The scene of a crash that killed six young people last weekend is believed to be a large concrete hole, referred to as a tunnel access shaft by the city, measuring 10 metres wide and 20 metres deep, located right in the middle of McKay Road in south-end Barrie.

The car plummeted into the hole and caught fire, according to a family member of one of the victims. The crash is believed to have happened sometime between 4 and 6 a.m., on Saturday, Aug. 27, but the crash scene was not located until Sunday at 2 a.m. by a Barrie police officer.

All six people had been reported missing on Saturday and had been on their way to Gateway Casinos Innisfil (Georgian Downs), not far from where the crash happened.

Although it’s unknown how the road was blocked prior to the crash, large concrete blocks are now in place at the site.

BarrieToday spoke to residents Thursday afternoon who live in the area of Veterans Drive and McKay Road, where significant construction has been taking place for several months as residential developments are built in the south end.

A woman who lives in the McKay Road area said she and her husband had walked up to the hole, prior to the crash happening, to look down inside.

“My husband has said several times, when looking at the construction zone, that it was a disaster waiting to happen,” said the woman, who didn’t want her name used due to the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation. “As far as driving in there, (people take their) ATVs in and around there. No one stops them.”  

Both McKay Road and Veterans Drive have ‘Local Traffic Only’ signs, as well as now having barricades, fencing and concrete, with police monitoring the construction site.

“There have not been proper signs and blockings. If anyone wanted to get into the dirt construction road, they easily could have, and obviously did,” said the woman. “This is so sad, so tragic, and never should have happened.”

The woman said she believes the catastrophic crash could have been prevented.

“If that hole was covered, we wouldn’t be talking here today,” she said to a reporter.

Another resident said there has never been proper signage near the construction site entrances.

“At the intersection of Veterans and McKay, there is a security guard who stands there to reroute people who go past the sign up the road, but even that sign just says ‘Local Traffic Only,’” said the man, who also asked that his name not be published. “But even then, where (the crash happened) is at the other side — McKay Road and Highway 27 — and there is not a guard down there and no proper signage or gates and barricades like now.”

BarrieToday also asked if there was anything to stop someone from driving east on McKay Road and into the construction zone.

“No, nothing like the big blockages they have now. If there was a small thing around the hole, no one would see that at night or at the last minute,” the man said.

City of Barrie officials have not answered several questions from BarrieToday, including what barriers were at the site prior to the crash and who brought in the concrete barriers that are there now.

In a statement emailed to BarrieToday shortly before 6 p.m., Thursday, City of Barrie chief administrative officer Michael Prowse said: “We are devastated by the loss of life and the events of Aug. 27/28. Currently there is an ongoing police investigation, and the City of Barrie is co-operating fully with that investigation. Unfortunately, we are simply not able to provide any additional comment or details at this time.”

The contractor for the project, Condrain Group, a Concord, Ont., company, could not be reached for comment by BarrieToday.

A family member of one of the victims told BarrieToday that all six families are meeting with the lead investigators from Barrie police and officials from the coroner’s office Friday afternoon.

A Barrie police spokesperson said there were no updates again today (Sept. 1) on the investigation. The last update from police was issued Monday.

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development is also investigating.

Six Barrie residents, all in their early 20s, died when their car went into the hole on McKay Road, west of Veterans Drive. The victims are: Haley Marin, 21; Curtis King, 22; Luke West, 22; Jersey Mitchell, 20; River Wells, 23; and Jason Ono-O’Connor, 23.

Their families continue to look for answers about what happened.

CTV News Barrie spoke to Natalie Hawes, the mother of Wells, at the crash site Wednesday.

“I need answers,” Hawes said. “It just doesn’t make sense why they were down here.”

Information on the city’s website about the McKay Road West sanitary trunk sewer project refers to the installation of a deep, 1,200-millimetre diameter sanitary sewer along McKay from 800 metres west to 350 metres east of the intersection with Veterans Drive, using a trenchless construction method.

Five tunnel access shafts are required, it says, up to 10 metres wide and 20 metres deep. The shafts will temporarily occupy part of the road allowance.

The tunnel access shaft is part of a major construction project expected to close the McKay Road West and Veterans Drive intersection, and related roadways, for 20 months.

On May 4, a city memo said the McKay Road-Veterans Drive intersection would be closed starting May 24 until approximately November 2023. The closure is necessary for the construction of new infrastructure to support growth and development in the southeast section of the Salem Secondary Plan Area.

McKay Road will be widened to five lanes and get a new urban streetscape with curb and gutter, raised medians, concrete sidewalks, a raised cycle track, and stormwater management improvements. In addition, the McKay-Veterans intersection will be expanded and upgraded.

The road closure includes McKay Road from one kilometre west of Veterans Drive to just east of Highway 400 and Veterans Drive, from Salem Road to the 9th Line of Innisfil.

The McKay-Veterans intersection has also been closed to all traffic. Local access to residents within the closure limits have been maintained for the duration of the project. However, through traffic would not be permitted. Detours were in place for the duration of construction.

“The area was a construction site being managed by city contractors to deliver the design, construction and financing of the water, sewer and road work along McKay Road and Veterans (Drive) to service new development in this area,” Prowse said in a statement issued Sunday evening. “The road has been fully closed and signed accordingly for many months.”

An update this summer on the city’s website said construction was well underway, with McKay Road and Veterans Drive being fully closed. 

Work has started on the new sanitary sewer along McKay Road and the first of five tunnelling shafts has been built in the intersection.

McKay Road sewer work is scheduled to continue, along with watermain installation on Veterans Drive during the summer months.

Motorists were reminded that there is no access through the road closure or work zone, and to follow the detour route signs.