Several drivers travelling through Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories during the May long weekend passed a grisly scene: two dead bison and a totalled Chevrolet Camaro.
But where was the driver?
Kathy Lepine and her mother came across the scene shortly after 8 a.m. MT on Sunday.
“We saw the buffalo upside down and kind of mangled, followed by the red car with the star on it,” said Lepine. The distinctive, two-door sports car had a black decal on one side, styled after the U.S. air force’s roundel. The windshield was caved in, the body of the car was severely damaged, and what looked like a sleeping bag was draped over the driver’s seat.
They were near Nyarling River, which is about 140 kilometres west of Fort Smith, N.W.T., and pulled over to investigate.
“Being from the North, you always stop,” Lepine said.
They were worried. They didn’t know if someone was hurt, or if there was a body.
I told him to be careful.- Brian Dragon
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a vehicle accident so fresh and that bad,” said Lepine. “The whole front end of that vehicle was toast, like, it was crushed.”
There was no one inside.
Authorities haven’t released any information about the driver. It’s unclear if he’s been identified or located.
“Nobody was injured to the point where they required an ambulance, to my understanding,” said T.J. Moore, protective services supervisor in Fort Smith.
Moore couldn’t provide more details about the crash.
Spotted at gas station
Brian Dragon works at the Petro-Canada gas station at the Salt River First Nation near Fort Smith. He recognized the wrecked Camaro from photos that circulated this week on Facebook.
“I gassed him up,” Dragon said, when the driver rolled through at around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“I asked him where he was going, and he said he was heading out of town,” said Dragon. “I told him there were a lot of buffalo on the road, and I told him to be careful.”
The driver was a young man, said Dragon, possibly in his late 20s.
What stood out to Dragon were the car’s New Jersey licence plates.
“I thought, ‘What is he doing here?'” said Dragon. “Why did he come all the way up here from New Jersey?”
‘Who’s this guy?’
Jane Sunderwald was camping in the park with three friends last weekend. They saw the Camaro before and after the crash.
Her group was stopped on the road Saturday afternoon, waiting for a herd of bison to clear out.
“[We] saw in the rearview this exciting red Camaro rocking up from behind us, so we instantly were like, ‘Oh interesting. Who’s this guy?'” said Sunderwald. They also noted the car’s big black star, New Jersey plates and “fully-tinted windows,” including the front windows.
He has clearly no idea how risky it is to drive through a herd of bison.- Jane Sunderwald
She said the car paused briefly before finding a gap among the animals and driving through it. After waiting a little for the bison to move, Sunderwald’s party also drove through.
That’s when they saw the Camaro again as it turned around and headed back toward the herd.
“We were like, ‘Wow. He has clearly no idea how risky it is to drive through a herd of bison,” said Sunderwald. “Or perhaps he does not care.”
The campers saw the wreck on their drive home to Yellowknife, at around 12:30 p.m. on Monday, as well as two dead bison by the side of the road.
One of them, said Sunderwald, “had been hit from the front. Part of its face was blown off and its hide underneath its chest was torn off.”
It wasn’t clear what happened to the other one. “We were thinking it would be very hard to kill two bison with one smallish vehicle,” she said.
Both Parks Canada staff and Fort Smith RCMP responded to the crash, according to a statement from Cam Zimmer, the superintendent of Wood Buffalo National Park.
Zimmer confirmed in a statement that the collision happened Saturday evening and that two bison were killed, but said Parks Canada is “not in a position” to release information about the state of the driver. No charges have been laid under the Canada National Parks Act.
Park staff moved the carcasses away from the road on Thursday “as they have attracted bears,” said Zimmer.
He said people driving through the area should stay in their vehicles and avoid stopping because “bears are protective of food sources.”
The RCMP hasn’t responded to calls about the animals and the driver.
According to the territorial government, between August 2012 and December 2017, 157 bison were killed in collisions on the territory’s highways.
Sidney Cohen · CBC News