Family members and people living near Wetaskiwin are calling for safety improvements to a local highway intersection following the death of a young woman late last week.
“If our words can help another family not go through what we have to go through — missing our daughter, our sister, our going to be his wife — then if I can help somebody else, that’s what we want to do,” said Shannon Stephan, who is grieving the loss of her daughter, Madison.
At around 2:30 p.m. Friday, 22-year-old Madison Stephan was involved in a collision at Highway 13 and Secondary Highway 814, on the northeastern edge of Wetaskiwin.
Madison’s boyfriend Hayden was driving at the time. The couple was heading east on Highway 13, turning north onto Secondary Highway 814 when they collided with a westbound semi. Hayden said the semi used the right-hand turn lane of Highway 13 to pass another truck that was turning south onto 814.
Hayden said he didn’t see the semi coming. Police are still investigating the crash.
Madison, who had plans to become a teacher or work in mental health, died at the scene.
“It was a nightmare. You didn’t want to hear what they were going to tell you. You felt it but you didn’t want to hear those words,” Madison’s dad, Troy Stephan, said.
“I didn’t want it to be real. I didn’t believe it. I had trouble believing it. I thought it was a joke. I was hoping for the punch line. It’s hard to put my thoughts into words but it was devastating. I didn’t know what to do with myself, my wife was the same.”
Between 2012 and 2016, there were five collisions at the intersection, according to Alberta Transportation. One of the collisions left two people dead, the province said. Four others were injured in collisions at the intersection.
Residents say they’ve also seen several near misses over the years. The Stephan family is speaking out in hopes improvements will be made so no family has to experience the loss they’re going through.
“As soon as my wife called me and said there’s been a bad accident, my thoughts were that would be my first guess where it would have happened,” Troy said.
“I don’t know how many people have died there, I don’t. I don’t know if there’s a number that has to be reached before they do something. I don’t know what that is but I just don’t understand how many families have to be devastated by something like this before they say, ‘Oh jeez maybe we should do something about it.'”
The city said it has heard from several residents over the years who have concerns about the intersection, which include drivers passing in the turning lanes and motorists having to increase or decrease their speed within a short distance.
Sue Howard, director of Municipal Services with the City of Wetaskiwin, said council has approved $36,000 to complete an intersection analysis, but changes to the intersection require provincial approval. The city said it is currently in talks with the province to find solutions.
“They do know that it’s a priority for us. Our MLA has been taking this very seriously and has been contacting ministers and setting up meetings,” Howard said.
“Our goal is to do something — even in an interim solution — as soon as possible. So we’ll likely see some speed reduction and lane-turning changes this year.”
Howard said a longer-term solution could include installing a traffic circle.
“Those improvements are now being reviewed and once they have been accepted the city will determine the next steps,” Wayne Wood with Alberta Transportation said in a statement to Global News.
A petition has also been set up, rallying the community to come together to call for change. The petition was set up by Aly Johnson, who grew up in Wetaskiwin and was friends with Madison.
She said for as long as she can remember, her parents have warned her about that intersection.
“I drive there every single time I go to visit family. Now I will have the memory of losing somebody,” she said.
“She could light up a room. She was so charismatic, and just had poise and beauty to her that nobody else could ever have. She was an awesome person and anybody was lucky to have two seconds with her.
“I thought that maybe by making a petition, that we could make numbers speak loud with words too and show them that there actually needs to be something done.”
Madison’s family just hope something is done before another tragedy happens.
“I’m not trying to point fingers at anybody, there’s no one person to say, ‘It’s your fault.’ But somewhere along the line someone’s just got to say, ‘Yeah, let’s do something.’ Whether it’s the city or the province, whoever. Why wait? Let’s just say, ‘OK, let’s get it done.’ So get it done,” Troy said.
Madison leaves behind her parents, three brothers — Tylen, Keiran and Caeden — and her boyfriend. The pair was making plans to get married.
“She’s going to be missed, not just by us,” Madison’s dad said. “Everybody who knew her was addicted to her personality. They wanted to be around her and it’s a tragedy that we’re not going to have that experience with her anymore. We have great memories. We’ll always have those fabulous memories.”
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