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Deaths from stray transport truck wheels renew calls for heightened vigilance

Jason Eligh, pictured with his son Parker, was killed when a set of wheels came off a tractor trailer travelling in the opposite lane. This picture was taken about seven hours before he died.

Eligh family photo/Eligh family photo

Two people have been killed in two weeks by wheels coming off transport trucks in Ontario, leaving family members calling for more strict trucking regulations and enforcement.

Miroslawa Chmielewski, 53, was driving to work on the Queen Elizabeth Way Thursday morning when she was killed by a stray wheel that bounced over the median near the Burlington Skyway. Only 12 days before, 24-year-old Jason Eligh had just dropped off his two children at a relative's on the way to see a friend, when a set of wheels crossed over a median on Highway 401 and struck his vehicle near Brockville, killing him.

For the Eligh family, hearing about a similar and seemingly preventable death so soon after losing Jason has been difficult.

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"We feel what they're going through," said Jason's father, Larry Eligh. "Things like this, they just shouldn't happen.

"Don't tell me a tire comes flying off the transport for any reason," he said. "There's got to be a reason."

In an interview, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said the deaths reinforce the urgency to have enhanced inspections across the province.

"There are two fatalities and there are two fatalities too [many]" he said, adding that a new inspection program has been in the works for three years.

However, for now, it's only in place in Windsor and Sarnia and will soon be implemented at a stop between Brantford and London. Old protocols allowed an inspector to remain inside a booth as trucks drove through the station. The new program requires the inspector to leave the booth and examine different parts of the truck. This requires physical changes to stations, which take time, the ministry says.

The minister didn't have a timeline for when it will be province-wide. "It's going to be implemented over the next several years," he said.

Two inspection stations have been shuttered in recent years but Mr. Chiarelli said the number of inspectors has remained the same by consolidating with nearby stations.

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On Friday, police announced that officers found the driver of the truck that had a wheel come off the day before, killing Ms. Chmielewski.

The driver was found Thursday evening, but OPP Sergeant Dave Woodford said he didn't know where police found the truck or whether the driver was aware of the collision before leaving the scene. No charges have been laid.

Ms. Chmielewski, a Hamilton mother of three, was the seventh person killed on Ontario roads by a loose wheel since 1997. In that year, there was a spate of runaway wheels, 215 in total, and legislation was introduced so that anyone liable for wheel separation could be fined between $2,000 and $50,000.

Mr. Eligh's father wants further improvements sooner rather than later to combat what the Transportation Ministry refers to as "wheel-off incidents." There had been 47 so far this year before the most recent one.

"They need to start enforcing fines or whatever they do to make these transport companies liable," he said.

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