Posted by: Singh Is King | Tuesday, August 28, 2007

B.C. Sikh wedding turns tragic as pickup kills 6, injures 17

SSNewsAbbotsford, B.C.: Casting a shadow over their daughter’s wedding today, a prominent Indo-Canadian family is mourning the deaths of six family members and friends killed in a tragic accident.

A group of more than 30 adults and children were walking down a two-lane road late Friday when they were struck from behind by a 1981 Chevy pickup.Three men and three women, ranging in age from 14 to the mid-50s, died at the scene and 17 others were injured. The youngest victims are a four-month-old baby and a seventh-month-old baby who was in serious condition last night. Most of the victims were related, Abbotsford Sgt. Amar Kingra said yesterday.

The group was participating in a traditional Indian wedding ritual called “Jaago,” where members of the bride’s family walk together from the house of a close family friend to the bride’s residence.

SSNews

Some were walking on the road and others on the shoulder, Sgt. Kimra said. They were singing and wearing ornamental lights on their heads when the pickup rammed into them, pushing some into a two-metre ditch and pinning them underneath.

The driver, a 71-year-old Indo-Canadian man, also lives in the area, neighbours said. A car that was supposed to be tailing the large group with its flashers on as a safety precaution was turning to get into position when the crash happened, police said. The group had started walking before the car was in place, Sgt, Kingra added.

Const. Casey Vinet described the scene as “chaos” when emergency crews arrived. Const. Vinet said the driver was questioned and released without charges. Investigators have ruled out alcohol and drugs and said speed also doesn’t look like a factor.

“The driver is shocked, very shocked,” Const. Vinet said. “He hit the crowd, drove into the crowd from behind. There were dry conditions at the time. Given it was a rural area, it was also very dark — certainly that played a factor.”

Police have seized the pickup and will conduct a mechanical inspection.

Fourteen ambulances, two helicopters and numerous off-duty officers were called to the crash location near a blueberry farm on an unlit stretch of Lefeuvre Road. There were around 200 to 300 people sitting underneath tents at the farm as part of the wedding celebration when the collision occurred. The farm has been owned by Avtar Mahal, the bride’s father, for the past 25 years.

The bride and groom, who is believed to be from the Gural family, were not part of the Jaago celebrations.

Abbotsford Counsellor Moe Gill said he’s good friends with the Mahal family, especially Mr. Mahal’s brother, Balvir. Mr. Gill said Mr. Balvir’s wife was one of the women killed. “His wife was over at my house two weeks ago to celebrate my granddaughter’s birthday,” he said. “Balvir has now taken medicine and has gone to sleep. He’s in such shock.”

Mr. Gill said the wedding was planned for as many as 500 guests, but will now have only five members from each family attend. Guests had flown in from California, Alberta and India, Mr. Gill said. The mood was solemn at the site of the crash. Cars full of family members and friends came as word spread throughout the tight-knit Sikh community in Abbotsford about the tragedy.

Bouquets of flowers were laid at the side of the road to remember the victims, and more than 100 people were walking along the asphalt. One of the mourners, Hakam Singh Gill, said his wife and daughters were supposed to be in the Jaago celebration, but at the last minute couldn’t make it. “It’s unbelievable. None of us could sleep for more than five minutes last night,” he said. The investigation continues.

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