MUSKOKA - There have been 950 accidents on Hwy 11 between Bracebridge and Huntsville in the last 10 years. On Aug. 29 Karie Metherel and Jesse DeHaan along with their two children were added to those statistics.
It was the Labour day long weekend and the family was heading to Bracebridge to get groceries for a BBQ they were attending the next day. They had left their 12 and 13 year old daughters at home.
On Aug. 29 before leaving Port Sydney they stopped at the gas station on the corner of South Mary Lake Road and Hwy 11.
“That’s the last thing I remember, I remember leaving the gas station and then I woke up in the ambulance,” said Karie.
Jesse was driving. He said he stopped at the Hwy 11 stop sign.
“It was the long weekend so traffic was heavy but I saw a spot. I wasn’t in a rush but I thought I had enough time to cross. I started to go and then all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I saw grey and that was it,” he said.
“I remember seeing the car and I turned the wheel thinking I could maybe turn the car a bit more, so it was more of a rear end instead of side impact but there was no time.”
As Jesse was crossing the northbound lanes of Hwy 11 from South Mary Lake Road to make a left turn onto the lanes of Hwy 11 south their Volkswagen Jetta was hit at 113 km an hour by another vehicle heading northbound in the left hand lane. The major impact occurred on the drivers side of the car directly where their four year old son was located.
Jesse remembers everything going dark and he had the impression it was nighttime. After fighting with his seatbelt, he eventually unbuckled and exited the vehicle. He was in and out of consciousness but remembers people around him and his daughter crying.
Karie said the car had rolled over and they were upside down in the ditch.
“The scariest thing for me is I don’t remember any of that, I don’t remember where my kids were,” she said.
Their two year daughter miraculously escaped unharmed and Karie suffered a concussion. Their four year old son, however was not as lucky. He had a broken femur and clavicle. He had to undergo surgery and has metal rods inserted in his leg which will have to be removed a year from now.
Jesse has multiple scull fractures, head trauma, a ruptured ear drum and as a result hearing loss ... both father and son were air lifted to Toronto hospitals where they remained for several days.
Jesse remembers that another car was turning right from Hwy 11 north onto South Mary Lake Road. The couple say that the police investigation into their accident is still ongoing. However, they think that perhaps the car which ended up hitting them in the left lane had switched lanes as the driver in the right hand lane was slowing down to turn right onto South Mary Lake Road.
“I don’t know, he must have been in my blind spot because I honestly can’t figure out how I would have missed him. I’m a very observant person,” said Jesse.
“We had kids in the car so it’s not like we were racing to get somewhere. There was a transport truck that was waiting to cross towards the gas station and it was just so much traffic all at once,” Karie said.
Jesse is a local carpenter and travels all over Muskoka, he has crossed that intersection numerous times. The couple had just moved from Bracebridge to Port Sydney two weeks prior to the accident.
Due to his injuries Jesse can not work or drive and he is not 100 percent sure when he will be cleared.
They currently have to drive back and forth to Toronto for various medical follow up appointments.
Depending on the day Karie said she sometimes still uses the South Mary Lake Rd. intersection but opts for the overpass at Hwy 141 more frequently.
Kevin Powers is the co-founder and spokesperson for Safer Hwy 11 Muskoka.
Powers has experienced traffic on Hwy 11 and has had near misses himself.
“I think almost anyone who lives in Muskoka has had a close call, knows someone, or has been in an accident along there,” he said.
Safer Hwy 11 Muskoka activism began when Powers discovered that 10 years ago the government had done a study on this stretch of road and determined that there was significant improvement which could be made to increase the safety.
“They have been sitting on this for 10 years and yet nothing has happened,” said Powers.
The group had submitted a Freedom of Information request and it indicated that there have been 950 accidents on this stretch of hwy 11 in the past 10 years.
“That’s nearly two accidents per week for 10 years on a 30 km stretch of highway,” he said.
Powers feels that after 950 accidents it’s time for the “government to act on this.”
Powers had a deputation today Oct. 23 at the district of Muskoka Engineering and Public Works committee.
“Ten years ago the government had committed to improving safety on a stretch of highway between Bracebridge and Huntsville, and 10 years later nothing has changed except the number of families affected by the many accidents and near misses along this stretch of highway,” he said in his deputation.
He told the committee Safer Hwy 11 is looking for the province to follow through on their commitment to make hwy 11 safer, as no proposed upgrades from the governments own study had been done.
He said the current intersections on hwy 11 force motorists to merge or cross traffic which is travelling at 100 km per hour.
Powers noted that going through ministry channels has not worked and he believes there is a need for municipal political action in order to prompt action on the provincial level.
To date Huntsville and Bracebridge councils have approved motions and provided support for the group.
Powers asked the committee and by extension district council for similar support. From there the group will take the resolutions and their petition to the minister of transportation with an ask to include the project in the 2020 provincial budget.
District chair John Klinck said there have been a “number of us who have been at this for far too many years. This was one of the things we talked about when I joined my first council in 1994 if you can imagine. Good on you for pressing this issue.”
Councillor Rick Maloney wanted to make it clear that while he supports this action, possible infrastructure restructuring would also come at a cost to the district. Councillor Brian Thompson was interested to know how these changes would impact merchants along hwy 11 intersections.
Committee pushed the request through to the November council meeting for a resolution.
Muskoka Post reached out to the Ministry of Transportation for comment and further statistics specifically for the Hwy 11 and South Mary Lake Road intersection.
The following is the ministry’s emailed statement to this publication.
“The ministry is currently completing the design for highway improvements on the section of Highway 11 that is in question, including the intersection. Public consultation is planned in the near future.
Between 2007 and 2017, there were 35 reported collisions at or near this particular intersection. Collision statistics for 2018-to-date are not yet available.”
Following their accident Jesse and Karie have their own ideas about what should occur to mitigate the danger at Hwy 11 intersections.
“I think that there should be an overpass there, or make the turning lanes longer,” said Karie.
Jesse thinks that perhaps a roundabout or traffic lights should be considered.
The couple has had their life turned upside down due to this accident. In addition to the stress of Jesse’s injuries and the loss of his income, the family of six has to find another house and move from their current rental home which has been sold. They have to move by December before Christmas in a region plagued by a severe housing crisis.
A GoFundMe campaign has been organized by friends for the family. Click here to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/f/recovery-funds-for-jesse-and-kash-dehaan
To add your signature to the Safer Hwy 11 petition click here: http://www.huntsville11.com/