Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, a small car carrying three 17-year-old girls enjoying their summer, crossed the centre line and crashed headlong into a truck at mile marker 193.
Ben and Karen Lundrigan’s daughter Breanna died at the scene. Her friend was airlifted to Halifax fighting for her life.
Police tell them 17-year-old Breanna, who was driving that day, hit the gravel shoulder and over-corrected.
Their church and others have told them, “It was just Breanna’s time.”
Karen doesn’t pretend to understand what God’s will is or why her daughter died that day.
What she knows is that every day since that tragedy on the Trans-Canada Highway between New Glasgow and Antigonish has been hell. She thinks of the friends of Breanna’s who were also injured and still suffer and the other people involved.
“Maybe it didn’t have to happen,” she wonders.
Karen and her husband had been concerned when her daughter asked to leave with two friends to drive from their home in Mulgrave to New Glasgow to watch a movie.
Breanna didn’t have a lot of experience driving, particularly on an undivided highway.
“Oh mom, don’t worry,” Breanna told her. “I just have one turn to make.”
It was a beautiful sunny day, so Karen relented and let her go.
“That was our last conversation,” Karen says.
For the first couple of months after the crash, Ben and Karen were in shock. There are still days where it doesn’t feel real. The reality that does hit home is harsh and cruel and impossible to understand.
“They say it will get easier. I‘m not sure when,” says Karen. “It hasn’t happened yet. I don’t suspect it will anytime soon.”
Breanna was their only girl and the youngest of three children. She did well at school, worked at Subway part time and had lots of friends. She was looking forward to finishing high school and going to St. FX where she wasn’t sure exactly what to study but dreamed of getting her X ring.
“She is a beautiful girl,” Karen says, making a point of using the present tense. “She was 17 of course and full of life. Unfortunately, it was taken way too soon.”
The Lundrigans have driven by the accident scene many times. There were no black marks, no obstacles that would have contributed, just a straight stretch of unforgiving, undivided highway that has claimed 13 lives in the last five years.
“It doesn’t make any sense as to why our girl was taken so soon, but we’ve been told to keep her alive so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Karen said.
This year they held a golf tournament in her memory to raise money for charity. When Karen heard about the efforts to get the highway twinned, she immediately said it’s something she’d want to support.
“There are too many deaths on that section of the highway.”
Barney’s River Fire Chief Joe MacDonald wasn’t there the day that Breanna Lundrigan died, but he’s been to that stretch for similar accidents far too many times.
When their radios go off with a call that there’s been a head-on collision on the highway, there’s always dread among the members of his department.
“Your heart goes to your teeth. It’s a bad feeling,” he said.
A call came just this week of a pulp truck going off the road. Thankfully no one was coming the other way when it happened. If there had, MacDonald is sure the results would have been fatal.
Two vehicles colliding at 100 km per hour never ends well and happens far too frequently on the 37 km stretch of Highway 104.
In the past they’ve held stress debriefings to help people cope with handling an accident. They haven’t in a while.
“Sad to say we do it so often, we’re starting to get used to it,” he said. “It’s not a good thing to get used to.”
He’d like to say it doesn’t impact the responders when they go home, but he knows it does and their families see it even when they don’t.
“It’s hard to admit that it bothers you.”
Earlier this spring he spoke with the Minister of the Department of Transportation and pleaded for the highway twinning to be completed.
MacDonald knows it wouldn’t stop all deaths and certainly not all accidents, but he believes it would reduce the severity. He estimates that about 10 of the 13 deaths in the last five years were from head-on collisions which might have been avoided if the highway was divided. That’d be 10 families, like the Lundrigans, who wouldn’t have to drive by a mile marker and wonder why.
People point to the contributing factors, but he doesn’t believe they’re to blame.
“People blame it on speed and drinking and driving but it can be anything – someone talking to you or falling asleep,” he said. “Of the 13, I haven’t heard any were drinking and driving.”
He suggests that something similar to the tolls used on the Cobequid pass could be used to help fund it.
“The government does have options,” he said.
Department of Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan travels the portion of undivided highway every week. He’s heard the heart-wrenching stories of those killed and he pays attention.
“We have been engaged with stakeholders from the corridor,” he said. “This is certainly a critical issue for many people and ourselves at the department.”
Realistically, twinning is a high-dollar and time-consuming process, he said, and there is no immediate plan to have that done.
What his department is doing is seeing what can be done in the short term by doing a safety study on the stretch.
“There’s certain engineering we can do to make the road safer,” he said.
An example of safety features that could be added are rumble strips along the side, widening portions or better signage.
The province will be looking for federal input and dollars as they look for ways to make that highway safer. When it will happen, he doesn’t know.
The highway remains undivided.
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– From Sutherlands River to the new twinned section in Antigonish is 37 kms
– Since 2009 there have been 144 accidents with 13 fatalities
– On average 7,000-8,000 vehicles drive through that portion of the highway each day. The Cobequid Pass averages 7,800 per day
– Traffic will increase if the big projects start like the Melford Container Terminal and the Goldboro LPG terminal.
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Have you or someone you know been involved in an accident on the undivided highway between New Glasgow and Antigonish or lost a loved one? Share your story by emailing email@example.com.