Whistler shaken by loss of community pillars Blunden and Chafe in road accident 

Vehicle passenger also killed; driver alleged to have three prior impaired driving convictions

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BUZZARD/WWW.MEDIA-CENTRE.CA - Fatal Crash A section of the Duffey Lake Road was closed for several hours following a deadly accident that claimed three lives on Sunday, May 31.
  • Photo BY David Buzzard/www.media-centre.ca
  • Fatal Crash A section of the Duffey Lake Road was closed for several hours following a deadly accident that claimed three lives on Sunday, May 31.

In many ways, Kelly Blunden and Ross Chafe exemplified what it meant to be a Whistler local to their very cores.

The two friends were both skilled athletes and avid sportsmen, bonding over their shared love of hockey and cycling, and they spread that infectious passion within the community as leaders and coaches.

Both were devoted fathers and loving husbands. Both were committed to their respective careers, and lived their lives with a level of humility and integrity that reflected why they were looked upon as such strong pillars of the resort.

"Kelly and Ross were two sides of the same coin. Ross was super warm, and he was very much like Kelly," said mutual friend Tim Regan, who became emotional as he remembered his two friends who were killed while cycling along Highway 99 near Pemberton on Sunday, May 31, struck head-on by an oncoming vehicle.

"To me, both of these guys represented the best parts of Whistler and the best part of the brotherhood and sisterhood of athleticism here."

Blunden, 53, and Chafe, 52, were cycling downhill just before noon on a steep section of Highway 99 east of the Birkenhead River when a northbound vehicle crossed into their lane and struck the group of Whistler Cycling Club (WCC) members.

Blunden is survived by his wife and two adult children. Chafe leaves behind a wife and three young children.

A passenger in the vehicle, 52-year-old Lil'wat First Nation member Paul Maurice Pierre Jr., was also killed. Pierre's daughter, Lindsay Thevarge, could not be reached by press time, but told CTV News that her father, a well-known local rancher, will be missed.

"He has a very big family and we're all very sad at this moment," she said. "He was always happy and cheerful and positive. A lot of people looked to him when they were going through hard times."

A third cyclist escaped the accident and sustained no injuries, confirmed WCC president Frank Savage.

The driver, who is suspected of impaired driving at the time of the incident, was airlifted to a Vancouver hospital following the incident. Police have not indicated the nature or extent of his injuries, and would not confirm the identity of the driver. As the driver has not yet been charged Pique is not identifying him. Police said they are considering charges of impaired driving causing death.

CBC reported that according to court documents the driver was on condition not to drive and had been previously convicted on three separate impaired driving charges.

The days that followed Sunday's tragedy have been marked by a wave of shock and sadness that has rippled through the community.

At municipal hall, where Blunden headed the IT department, the mood was somber.

"It was a very sad day in the hall today as you can probably appreciate, and, of course my sympathies go out to the families have been impacted by this terrible accident," said Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, remembering Blunden as an employee who "had that lovely ability to combine professionalism with friendliness and skill."

Blunden was also a tireless minor hockey coach for many years in the community, and was "instrumental" in building the Whistler Oldtimers Hockey League as a board member, said longtime friend Wayne Coughlin.

Since moving to the resort several years ago, Chafe was heavily involved in the biking community as a former pro cyclist and alternate at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

He travelled frequently for his career in business development for an Ontario-based flag company.

He also played a key role — along with Blunden — in developing the WCC since it was formed over a year ago, said Savage.

"They were both very passionate cyclists and individuals who had a tremendous enthusiasm for riding that was just contagious," he said.

Coughlin said both men were strong proponents for safe cycling and would "love for everyone to continue with safe cycling practices."

In the wake of the weekend's fatal crash, several have spoken out about the need for improved road conditions on Highway 99 — particularly between Whistler and Pemberton — though the deaths of Chafe and Blunden are not related to road conditions at the time.

"There was work done between Whistler and Pemberton a few years ago but a lot of that is deteriorating," Savage said. "Sometimes there's not a white line; the gravel on the surface gets worse as the season goes on and forces cyclists into the traffic more often, so there's a lot of safety (issues)."

Whistler's Troy Curall encountered those safety issues firsthand on Sunday while driving to Nairn Falls with his 22-foot camper in tow when, trying to veer around a female cyclist, he narrowly missed a head-on collision with another vehicle.

"The road isn't wide and is in too poor of a condition, where cyclists are constantly dodging either debris, potholes or expansion joints," he said. "Something needs to be done about this."

Officials from across the Sea to Sky region have lobbied the province for improvements to several sections of road north of Whistler, particularly considering the recent influx of cyclists in the area training for events like Ironman and the GranFondo.

"I think to the north of us there are three pieces of road that need attention, and we've been speaking with (the Ministry of Transportation) about it," said Wilhelm-Morden, pointing to the need for improvements along the segment connecting the resort to Pemberton, a section that runs through Mount Currie towards Duffey Lake Road, and Pemberton Meadows Road.

Earlier this month, the province committed to resurfacing a two-and-a-half kilometre stretch of the Squamish Valley Road, roughly 16 kilometres north of Highway 99, as well as nearly three kilometres of Pemberton Portage Road.

A Celebration of Life will be held for Blunden and Chafe on June 13 at the Whistler Conference Centre starting at 1 p.m.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations will gratefully accepted to support the two families during this difficult time. Donations can be made at the TD Bank or at the event.

A Kelly Blunden Hockey Bursary has also been set up by the Whistler Minor Hockey Association. Those interested in donating please contact Steve Legge at steve@wrec.com.</p>

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