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UPDATE: Safety questioned at Chilliwack road near Fraser River where teens died

Friends of Connor Dash and Gerritt Niessen, from left to right, Tyler Walker, Matthew Dickey, Dominique Ashley-Pryce and Matt Garner on Ballam Road in Chilliwack at the spot Dash and Niessen went into the river early Sunday morning.  - Paul J. Henderson
Friends of Connor Dash and Gerritt Niessen, from left to right, Tyler Walker, Matthew Dickey, Dominique Ashley-Pryce and Matt Garner on Ballam Road in Chilliwack at the spot Dash and Niessen went into the river early Sunday morning.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

The stretch of road next to the Fraser River where two teenagers died early Sunday morning is facing scrutiny this week as a spot where many vehicles slide off the road.

As friends of Connor Dash and Gerritt Niessen gathered Monday around noon at a makeshift memorial on the shoulder of Ballam Road where the truck went over the edge, the tool box from Dash's Dodge pickup was visible on the river bottom.

That box sat right next to the wreck of an old car, which itself was not far away from a second old submerged vehicle.

City of Chilliwack Coun. Chris Kloot said he has heard from nearby residents about how dangerous this stretch of road is. He was at the scene Monday taking note of the two submerged vehicles, the pitch of the road running towards the river and the two metres of icy shoulder.

Kloot said he met Monday morning with a resident from MacDonald Road, and he went out to the river to see the road for himself.

"I emailed city staff to ask if there were options that we could look at to improve this stretch of rural road," Kloot told the Times. "Seeing other cars on the river bottom would suggest to me this happens more often, and I would hate to see the terrible tragedy of early Sunday morning reoccur."

A man on the scene Monday said he was there and saw the truck Dash and Niessen were in on its roof, half submerged in the icy Fraser River.

Chilliwack Search and Rescue (CSAR) attempted to access the truck with its jet boat, but was unable to get close enough. Chilliwack RCMP and Chilliwack Fire Department also attended the scene.

CSAR volunteers then waded into the water to recover the two deceased individuals.

Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail said police are investigating the cause of the accident.

Rail added that Victim Services is engaged with the families of the two 18-year-olds.

“The tragic deaths of these young men has had an impact on the entire community,” Rail said.

The two young men who loved four-by-fouring and motorcross were quickly remembered online and with makeshift memorials in the parking lot at the river's edge and also in the Chilliwack secondary school (CSS) parking lot. Niessen graduated from CSS last year and Dash was attending the school.

Before classes Monday, a few dozen students and some teachers gathered at a memorial set up where Dash used to park his pickup. The spot was lined with stones, filled with flowers and friends placed a liquor bottle, beer cans, chewing tobacco and other mementos at the spot.

Some students later got in vehicles and were doing burnouts in the parking lot in honour of the dead teens.

Social media lit up Sunday and even more Monday with sympathy for the friends and families of the men who died.

The two men were highly involved in the local motorcross community as well.

"The motor [sic] family is saddened by the loss of such amazing kids," a post from the Popkum Motor Park posted Sunday afternoon said. "Gone to [sic] soon but never forgotten. Our sincere condolences to the Niessen and Dash families, friends and all affected in such a tragic loss. #ripgerritt #ripconnor #ridewithgod."

"Still in shock that I lost two good friends from school R.I.P.", said a friend.

"Man I remember the days when we would just drive around for hours on end wasting gas," said another friend. "You were the funniest but also the nicest kid I've met. You will be missed man. And you were and will always be loved."

Police anyone who may have witnessed the incident to contact the Chilliwack RCMP at 604-792-4611 or, to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).

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