Daily News Sports EditorThe Everett Silvertips are thanking their lucky stars -- and their bus driver -- after their bus narrowly missed becoming involved in a multi-vehicle accident on the Coquihalla Highway early Thursday morning.
The Silvertips were on their way home after skating to a 3-2 WHL victory over the Kamloops Blazers at Interior Savings Centre when their bus ended up in a snowbank about 38 km south of Merritt.
“We’re just very thankful that the driver did a great job of avoiding the accident,” Silvertips general manager Doug Soetaert said Thursday afternoon. “He threw it into the left-hand median at the last minute.
“Our bus did go off the road, but it was able to back out after. It avoided a collision.”
Driver Tom Jessen had the bus in the right-hand lane just moments before having to take evasive action. Realizing the situation, Soetaert said, Jessen cut across the left-hand lane and the bus ended up with its nose in a snowbank.
“(Jessen) was fantastic,” wrote Jon Rosen, the Silvertips’ director of public relations and broadcasting, in an email.
Soetaert wasn’t on the bus. He had stayed in Kamloops after the game, choosing to drive home in the morning. He received a text message from head coach Craig Hartsburg at 12:30 a.m., saying the bus had left the road.
“Nobody was hurt and the bus is fine. Thank God,” Soetaert said. “It was close, I guess, because they were just sliding. It was all ice and snow and freezing rain. They couldn’t stop so (Jessen) put it into the left-hand ditch.
“They’re very lucky . . . very lucky.”
Later Thursday, Soetaert was able to look at some photographs from the scene.
“It was quite a mess,” he said. “They were . . . 25 feet away from hitting a semi when he put it in the snowbank.”
Referees Trevor Hanson and Jeff Ingram had worked the game in Kamloops and found themselves in front of the Everett bus as it approached the accident scene.
“They were narrowly missed by a semi,” Soetaert said. “They ended up sitting on our bus with our team until the highway was cleared and all the emergency vehicles were gone.”
The Silvertips arrived back in Everett at 6 a.m. Under normal conditions, Soetaert said, they would arrive home about 2:30 a.m.
“They had two and a half hours sitting there until everything was pushed out of their way and cleared up so that they could continue on,” he said. “They eventually backed the bus out of the snowbank and continued on their way.”
Soetaert made the drive back to Everett yesterday morning, passing the wreckage on his way over the Coq.
“We went by and the semis were all lined up on the side of the road, on the right-hand side on the shoulder,” he said. “They’re all smashed in and their boxes are broken. There was lumber all over the place.”
Meanwhile, mychilliwacknews.com reported that the Chilliwack Bruins, who lost 6-4 to the Rockets in Kelowna on Wednesday night, also ran into travel difficulties.
Head coach Marc Habscheid told The Daily News that the Bruins got home at 11 a.m.
According to the website, the Bruins reached the accident site on the Coquihalla about 1 a.m. They turned around and attempted to take an alternative route, only to discover that the Trans-Canada Highway also was closed because of an accident near Yale.
The Bruins sat there until the highway reopened about 10 a.m. To make matters worse, there wasn’t any cell phone service.
“We couldn’t contact anyone,” Randy Merkley, the Bruins’ radio voice on 89.5 The Hawk, told the website.
The Bruins will be back on the Coquihalla today as they are scheduled to play the Blazers in Kamloops tonight.