Members of Edmonton's Filipino community are in grief after four temporary foreign workers were killed in a head-on crash by the driver of an SUV who RCMP believe may have been drunk as he wildly drove the wrong way on a divided highway.
The dead include two 35-year-old men, a 39-year-old woman and a 52-year-old woman. A fifth occupant of the vehicle – a 29-year-old female – sustained serious injuries and underwent surgery Monday.
The driver of the SUV walked away unhurt but was taken into custody after refusing to provide a breath test.
"It's a very, very difficult thing," said Esmerelda Agbulos, an honorary consul for the Philippines based in Edmonton.
"It's horrific, because these people do not have relatives here. They're here to work and when something like this happens, it's a tragedy."
Ms. Agbulos said she knew the identities of those involved but did not want to disclose them because all their relatives back home had not yet been notified.
She said all were employed at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel and although she was unsure where each one worked, she said it could be any range of jobs from housekeeping to working the front desk.
"You leave your homeland to seek a better opportunity," Ms. Agbulos said. "Some of them have families of their own – they have a wife or children – and they have to support them. The wages they're getting here helps a lot in the Philippines. They're sacrificing everything to come here.
"We, as a community, really get together and try and help."
The crash happened at the southern edge of Innisfail on Highway 2, the main route between Calgary and Edmonton, shortly before midnight Sunday.
RCMP Constable Doug Dewar said an off-duty police officer first noticed the SUV travelling the wrong direction on the highway between Olds and Bowden, north of Calgary.
It was swerving, Constable Dewar said. Cars travelling the correct direction moved to get out of the way. The SUV managed to make it 20 kilometres before it crashed head-on into a Dodge Journey carrying the workers.
Four people in the car died and a fifth was taken to hospital in Edmonton for surgery.
The driver of the SUV showed signs that he had been drinking, Constable Dewar said. The man was held in custody because he refused a breath test, the officer said.
The two vehicles were travelling at highway speeds at the time of the crash. Road conditions were good. Everyone in the crash was wearing a seatbelt and all airbags worked properly, Constable Dewar said.
"All their relatives, so far as we have been able to tell, do not reside in Canada. And so we will be dealing with a consular staff to notify family through official channels," Constable Dewar said.
The accident evoked another recent highway tragedy involving workers who had come to Canada to earn a living. Last month, 10 migrant farm workers from South America and a truck driver were killed in a crash in Ontario.
A van carrying the workers from a poultry farm drove through a stop sign and into the path of a truck in the tiny hamlet of Hampstead. Three other migrants were badly injured in the crash.
While some of the workers had been in Canada for several years, others had arrived just days before.