Motorcyclist who saw friend die on muddy Manitoba highway demands accountability
Grieving friends Denis L’Heureux describe the man as an amusing presence with a big smile who enjoyed riding motorbikes with his loved ones, as he did last weekend on his 45th birthday when his bike slid on a mud-covered highway and ejected him into oncoming traffic.
“He was the best…He made everyone better just by knowing him,” said friend Brian Elcheshen, who has been in touch with the family. “They have difficulty.”
L’Heureux died on Saturday during a ride with his family and friends, including Elcheshen who was riding just behind him.
He recalls the “horrible” road conditions when the group came across a stretch of Highway 311 near Steinbach covered in wet mud. RCMP confirm that muddy debris was on the road that day.
Elcheshen said mud covered both lanes of the freeway for about the distance of a football field. There was no signage warning drivers, he said.
The group drastically reduced their speed on approach and saw a change in the texture of the highway, Elcheshen said, but even as they slowed to around 50 kilometers per hour, they were unable to maneuver safely. safety in the mud.
“It was like going from asphalt to ice,” Elcheshen said.
The six motorcycles lost control. Everyone involved managed to escape without serious injury, except for L’Heureux.
He was in the lead, with his 12-year-old daughter in the backseat. Two of his sons and a couple of friends were also riding. L’Heureux was thrown off his bike into the lane beside him and hit by an eastbound van.
He died at the scene.
Elcheshen rode directly behind his friend.
“You could see him bring it back inside and then he would slide the other way,” he said. “Once I was in the mud it felt pretty much the same and you could have been spinning around.”
Elcheshen, who was not seriously injured physically, slipped into the ditch. It flew through his windshield. He lost sight of L’Heureux before being run over by the truck.
Elcheshen suggested the mud was left behind by farm equipment.
“I find it ridiculous that they can cross the freeway and leave this kind of mess and there’s no accountability,” he said.
Doug Houghton, director of the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups and friend of L’Heureux, wants some action.
“I was pretty shaken up,” he said. “It’s not the first time something like this has happened.”
Houghton wrote to Manitoba Public Insurance and Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, suggesting the mud should have been cleaned up or warning signs put up.
He said it’s not uncommon for a motorcyclist to come across stretches of highway covered in mud from farm equipment.
“Any time it’s another biker you know, you feel very close because it could have been you,” he said. “I’ve had many close calls and this is something that could have been avoided with proper advance warning.”
Their home seems so much calmer without him.– Elisabeth Elcheshen
His letter includes photos from a trip to Pine Falls a few years ago with his girlfriend. He points to clumps of mud, some bigger than his foot, strewn across a highway.
Houghton said the province could subsidize the costs of signs farmers need to put up when crossing roads with equipment that could drag mud. He thinks MPI could do more to educate the public and agricultural producers about the dangers of not clearing the roads.
“What I’d like to see is…something a little more proactive to prevent this from happening again,” he said.
“I don’t think it would be very difficult or onerous for farmers to have a little sign that could be made available for free…placed on the side of the road at both ends of their farm so that people be aware that there could be mud.”
Manitoba RCMP media relations officer Tara Seel said no one reported to the RCMP that farm equipment was responsible for the mud on the road that day.
She said the investigation is continuing and will look into the cause of the debris on the freeway. The charges have not been ruled out, Seel said.
“A family has suffered a horrific loss and…emotions are running high in the community,” she said. “We would like to warn anyone who makes public accusations against anyone.”
Signage pilot project in Ontario
Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure says it is aware of a pilot program in Ontario targeting dangerous mud left on roads.
This program requires two signs, one at each end of a farm that could generate this kind of activity, as a warning to drivers, according to a ministry spokesperson.
It is an offense under the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act to leave anything on the road that could cause injury.
Violations can result in fines of $298. Police can opt out of the ticket and instead require a violator to go to court, where a judge can issue fines of up to $2,000.
“Our hearts go out to the wife and three children of Denis L’Heureux, as well as their friends and fellow riders in the close-knit motorcycling community,” the ministry statement said.
Brian’s wife, Elizabeth Elcheshen, who has been spending time with the family for the past few days, said Denis’ great presence was missed.
“Their house seems so much calmer without him,” she said.
“It’s a very big impact that someone who is so evident in life is no longer part of it.”