A motorist suspected of drunk driving on Highway 97 Saturday morning rear-ended another vehicle at a high rate of speed while fleeing police, resulting in non life-threatening injuries to both drivers.
The impact shot the northbound vehicles over the centre meridian across both oncoming lanes to the opposite side of the highway near the 22nd Avenue intersection. The suspect's vehicle, a green Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle, collided with a hydro pole, knocking out power in the area, before coming to a stop in the ditch.
The other vehicle, a black GMC Jimmy driven by a 63-year-old man, came to rest on the west shoulder of the highway after it had apparently rolled and made contact with a light standard. The impact crumpled the back end of the Jimmy and caved in the roof on the driver's side. The driver was admitted to UHNBC with undisclosed injuries.
The two drivers were the only occupants of the vehicles. The driver's side airbag of the Expedition deployed and the driver, a 29-year-old new driver with only a learner's permit, was taken to hospital for treatment of minor injuries and is now in police custody.
"He was fleeing police," said RCMP Cpl. Craig Douglass. "At Highway 97 and 16 the officer turned on his lights and [the suspect] shot off like a bat out of hell and a few seconds later the collision happened.
"It's clear that speed and alcohol were factors."
The suspect, who recently moved from the Fort St. James area to Prince George, gave two breath samples to police and both were more than double the legal limit. He will face several Criminal Code charges that will be recommended to provincial Crown council.
The accident, at about 7:30 a.m., happened right in front of the BC Hydro offices, so crews didn't have far to travel when dispatched to the scene to restore power. About 370 hydro customers were without power in an area bordered by Abbott Crescent to the east, Ospika Boulevard to the west, 20th Avenue to the north and south to Athlone Avenue. Power was restored at 10:15 a.m.
About 20 customers who lined up to get into Princess Auto for its 8 a.m. opening were turned away and before the lights went back on an additional 40 people were left waiting in the parking lot. Saturdays are the busiest days for the auto parts/hardware retailer. The accident also knocked out power at the adjacent Tim Hortons restaurant.
"We were kind of stuck there for awhile," said Princess Auto assistant manager Bill Lamb. "There were actually more people upset about [Tim Hortons] than they were about us not being open."
Power at Pine Centre Mall was also knocked out by the collision.
Northbound highway traffic was reduced to one lane and southbound traffic was rerouted while an RCMP collision reconstructionist from the North District Traffic Services section investigated the scene.