The Whistler cycling community is mourning the loss of two of its members who were killed when an allegedly drunk driver hit them on Highway 99 north of Mt. Currie on Sunday (May 31).
They have been identified as Kelly Blunden, 53, and Ross Chafe, 50. A third cyclist who was riding with the pair was not injured in the crash, but the passenger in the vehicle was killed and the driver was airlifted to a Vancouver hospital. The passenger has been identified as Paul Maurice Pierre Jr., 52, of the Lil’wat Nation. The driver’s identity has not yet been revealed and charges have not been laid.
“It’s very emotional,” said Gary Baker, vice president of the Whistler Cycling Club, which the men belonged to, on Sunday night. “All people are doing is crying.”
RCMP were called to the scene downhill from the salt sheds near Joffre Lake around 11:58 a.m. Police closed the highway in both directions for much of the day while they investigated the scene.
Baker said the avid cyclists had been on a gruelling ride up the Duffey Lake Road and had turned around to return home when Blunden and Chafe, who were ahead of the third cyclist, were hit.
“It’s one of the biggest climbs we have in the area,” said Frank Savage, president of the club. “It’s close to 1,200 metres of climbing. It’s very steep in some sections and it’s got a beautiful descent. I’m sure they were enjoying that descent on a nice, sunny day… They made a big ride of it. They rode from Whistler, which depending where you start would be 60 km plus. They were fit cyclists and very experienced and very skilled.”
In the summer of 2013, Jen Black and her friend Merilea Creighton were part of a small beginner cycling group that Chafe led. He would go as far as heading out to sweep the road where the group would be cycling the next day to ensure they wouldn’t get punctured tires.
That summer group culminated in a ride up the same road where the men were killed. “He trained us all summer to be able to go up the Duffey Lake Road,” Black said. “We all made it to the top and he was so proud. When we got back to his car he was so elated he bought us little champagne bottles and he had written, ‘First Duffey! Congratulations’ on them. He was this extraordinary accomplished cyclist. He got so much joy out of seeing new riders enjoy the sport.”
A father of three, Black said his other passion in life was his family. “He spoke of his wife and kids with such pride,” she said. “He loved life, loved adventure, athletics and sport. I just feel like he’s one of the greatest men I will ever know in the short time I knew him.”
The cycling club is cancelling its Tuesday night ride and, instead, will bring in local counsellor Greg McDonnell to offer grief counselling. Baker said they’re not sure when the club will return to its regular schedule, but they will discuss it on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the club is remembering the two men who were instrumental in the organization. “Everybody is just in shock,” Savage said. “We’re trying to deal with our own feelings, but it goes back to the families. We know they were great fathers and husbands and it just makes me sick to think about their families.”
Baker described Blunden as a “family man” with young adult children. He had just started a new cycling group on Wednesday nights to help introduce new riders to the sport. His wife who was a little nervous about riding in big groups inspired him, Baker said.
“He took it upon himself to start the Wednesday night ride where it was more beginner riders and it helped teach them safety and how to change gears, just things that sometimes new people aren’t quite up to speed on,” he said. “It’s gone over very well.”
He also worked in IT with the Resort Municipality of Whistler and helped set up the club’s website.
Chafe was “very much a businessman,” Baker added. He served as secretary of the club for a year. He had a successful flag company and travelled often. “He lived for a while in France,” Baker said. “He was with a big cycling club in France, so he had a lot of ideas about cycling. He was instrumental in setting us up as a not-for-profit club.”
Chafe was often one to wait around and help out other cyclists if they got left behind. “He was a very kind person,” Baker said.
His message for others to glean from this tragedy: “Don’t drink and drive.”
To that end, Savage said that road cyclists have to contend with a host of risks that are out of their control — among the scariest is an impaired driver. “We’re quite vulnerable,” he said. “We all ride thousands of kilometres on the Sea to Sky highway between Horseshoe Bay and Lillooet. We’re out there all the time, several days a week. We’re vulnerable and drunk drivers are the absolute worst.”