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Family speaks out about tragic loss of their parents on B.C.’s Highway 5

Amber and Gordon Bjorkman were killed in head-on collision on Dec. 2
DriveBC camera in Little Fort at Highway 5 and Highway 24 junction, looking north. (DriveBC)

The grieving family of Gordon and Amber Bjorkman of Merritt, who lost their lives in a head-on collision on Highway 5 on Dec. 2, are speaking out about the tragic loss of their beloved parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

“My wife Keli and I have good moments remembering them, and then something sets us off and the tears start,” Gordon and Amber’s son Dave Bjorkman said in an interview with Black Press on Dec. 7.

The vehicle in which his parents were driving collided with a commercial vehicle while the couple was travelling to Clearwater to visit their grown children.

“I was out on the highway, and I tried to get in touch with my parents to tell them the road was closed due to an accident, and ultimately found out it was them.”

Cpl. Mike Moore, media relations with BC Highway Patrol, said the collision took place at about 10:45 a.m. in the northbound lane. “The initial investigation points to the commercial vehicle entering the oncoming lane, where it struck the oncoming car,” he said.

The couple was pronounced dead at the scene. Moore said that the investigation is now “focusing on the driving behaviour of the commercial truck leading up to the crash.”

Dave is a foreman for BC Hydro based in Clearwater. A certified journeyman lineman, he has years of experience as a Class 1 driver, and was out on a work-related call not far from where the crash took place that same day.

“I spend lots of my time on the highway with hydro. I’m out there all the time and we see too much of this on this stretch of highway.

“There are so many ‘what ifs’. I could’ve gotten up that morning, saw it was snowing, and phoned my mom and told them not to come up during this first significant snowfall, but then again it’s my mom, who wants to come up and deliver Christmas presents. Normally they would have texted us before they left. But she didn’t text me this time, because I would have said not to come. Our family is devastated.”

Dave and Keli have five grown children between them and three grandchildren, and Keli says Gordon and Amber adored their great-grandchildren. The Bjorkmans’ daughter Carole Mahood and husband Pat live in Williams Lake. Their cousin — Gordon and Amber’s niece — is Lana Popham, B.C.’s minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport, who posted a loving message on social media on Dec. 7. It read in part “This news is so hard to accept and to understand. My brother Guy Mckintuck and our entire family send our cousins Dave Bjorkman and Carole Mahood and their families all of our love and support at this incredibly difficult time.”

When asked about his cousin, who plays a prominent role in provincial politics, Dave replied “My cousin doesn’t want to politicize this, understandably, but I’m hoping that she’ll walk down the hall to visit the minister of transportation, Rob Fleming, to share her feelings. Maybe this will impact the government in an emotional way when it’s touched someone’s family so deeply in their own circle and a close colleague.”

Dave was a volunteer firefighter in Terrace for 15 years before moving to Clearwater. He is a dedicated Canadian Ranger and belongs to the 100 Mile House Canadian Ranger Patrol, where he often volunteers to train youth in outdoor life skills, such as survival in the bush and how to safely operate snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

During his years as a volunteer firefighter, he experienced the after-effects of PTSD, and knows how difficult it is for first responders in the North Thompson to continually attend traumatic incidents. He is concerned that the high volume of fatals they must debrief from will eventually result in the same impact it had on him when serving.

“I know firsthand what they are going through. We are so thankful for them, but I worry for their emotional well-being. I’ve been there.”

In describing Gordon and Amber, their son’s voice becomes lighter. “Their life was so large together. My dad climbed mountains starting in his teens and became a pilot, building a plane in our basement. Mom even went to ground school. He was an electrician for BC Hydro and mom worked for ICBC.

“At 81 years old Dad continued working on and off and was still a contract instructor for BC Hydro, working for a safety training company. They travelled together and loved golfing. They belonged to the Shriners, and Mom (77) was active in the Royal Purple. They were in love and lived life to the fullest. I could spend hours talking about my mom and dad, their active life, and how they loved doing new things together their whole lives.”

The Bjorkmans became “snowbirds” in 2017 after buying a small vacation home in California.

“Nothing stopped them,” said Keli fondly. “They were amazing together. They showed up in that small quiet place and next thing you know they were organizing social gatherings and special events. They lived such full lives and would do so many fun things together, like dressing up for Saint Patrick’s Day. I can see them in my memory, Gord dressed up like a leprechaun and Amber in a beautiful green sparkling gown.

“Both of my parents are gone from dementia. We had time to prepare for that. This is so different, so sudden. We were both lost the day this happened and still are overwhelmed.” Keli added that she and Dave are moved by the community members who have dropped off food, flowers, and messages, for which they are so thankful.

Dave said that he doesn’t want his parents’ lives to have been lost in vain, adding that there need to be stricter regulations and follow-up in place for training commercial drivers.

“To be a commercial pilot you must be able to speak and read English, because it’s recognized internationally. It’s a standard of training, and these drivers aren’t receiving the training. They come here as new Canadians, and it seems as though they are forced immediately into a work environment they aren’t ready for or properly trained in.

“I hope people write letters to the minister of transportation and demand change. There need to be changes in training, changes in qualifications. The way this is happening is not sustainable. We can raise our voices together by contacting our MLAs, writing to the ministry, speaking to our local officials.”

Dave spoke of his sister, who is struggling to process this painful loss of both parents at once. She is a beekeeper who told the family of the old saying “Tell the bees,” which now carries special meaning for them all.

“Telling the bees” is a ceremony that calls for a beekeeper to notify their hives of a death in the family. According to tradition, bees that are “put into mourning” help shepherd the dead into the afterlife, as well as reward their stewards with a generous honey harvest.

“Mom and Dad aren’t gone, they are here with us. We will tell the bees,” said Dave.

The family is planning a special celebration of life in the spring, when it is safer to travel, to spread Amber and Gordon’s ashes in the north shore area of Howe Sound, a place they both loved.

READ ALSO: Merritt couple victims of Highway 5 collision with commercial truck

About the Author: Hettie Buck

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