The wreckage of Elijah John’s car after it hydroplaned and slid down and embankment Nov. 5 at Herrling Island. Submitted photo

18-year-old Hope man searches for those who stopped to help him after a nearly-fatal car crash

Elijah John says he wouldn’t have survived a Nov. 5 crash at Herrling Island without the help of strangers

After a crash at Herrling Island left a young Hope man hovering near death, his family is now searching for the driver who stopped to help him.

Elijah John, an 18-year-old Hope resident who had recently begun the University of the Fraser Valley’s automotive technician program on a full first-year scholarship, was heading home from school Nov. 5 when he hydroplaned on a section of Highway 1 at Herrling Island. After freeing himself from the wreckage and attempting to flag down help with no success, John thinks he would have died on the side of the road had a man and his son not stopped to help him.

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John was heading eastbound on Highway 1 at around 6:30 p.m. when his vehicle hydroplaned. It spun 180 degrees and went down an embankment backward, crashing into a tree and trapping John inside.

“He hit a tree and he can’t really remember too much from there. He remembers being trapped in the vehicle but he doesn’t know how he got out or how he got to the side of the road,” John’s mother Tanya Zilinski said.

Photos of the vehicle show extensive damage to the driver’s side: the metal is completely ripped off in places, the door itself is partially attached to the frame and partially buckled out away from the car and the windshield is completely crushed. Zilinski said the RCMP, tow truck driver and ICBC adjustor told her they have no idea how he was able to exit the vehicle on his own.

“The entire driver’s side is caved right in. We don’t even know how he got out of that thing. It’s a miracle he’s even alive,” she said.

After freeing himself and making his way to the other side of the highway, John tried jumping up and down to flag down help.

“Nobody would pull over and then he said, finally, he couldn’t stand any longer so he just kind of sat on the side of the highway…’I guess this is it’, he thought he was going to die for sure on the side of the highway,” Zilinski said.

Finally, a man and his son driving a black GMC Sierra truck pulled over and brought John into their vehicle before calling 911. John was sent in an ambulance to Chilliwack, from there he was flown by air ambulance to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster as his injuries were extensive.

John’s arm completely snapped in the crash: he has already had major surgery using metal plates to brace the bones together. He also had a large skin graft done on the underside of his forearm, to fix damaged and missing tissue. Both of John’s lungs collapsed and all of his ribs and neck were fractured during the accident.

For several hours the family was unaware of his condition as those working to save him did not know who he was.

“We didn’t get the phone call until 10 p.m. that night because they had to…search for his wallet. His first tags he had on said unknown male,” Zilinski recalls.

“It’s been kind of like an out of body experience, I guess you can say, I’ve just been going through it day to day and really thankful he’s here and he made it.”

John now embarks on a recovery which has him taking the rest of the school year off, with UFV holding his space and his scholarship for next September. His skin graft will take time to heal and he is also at risk of his lungs collapsing again, spontaneously. He needs to be rushed straight to hospital if this happens again.

Zilinski said her son wants to find the man and his son who stopped to help him, in order to thank them for saving his life. “He really feels, if they hadn’t stopped he would have died,” she said.

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John was the first baby born in Hope in the year 2000 and the Hope Standard wrote about his graduation 18 years for a front page story. “The possibilities are limitless for him right now, he could literally do anything he wants in life and he’ll be successful at it,” Zilinski told The Hope Standard in June. “His next 18 years are going to be something pretty awesome.”

Now Zilinski said her young son already has a survival story to add to his young and promising life.

“We really believe and he believes, too, that he’s here for a greater purpose. And yeah, I think that sounds about right,” she said.

Hope RCMP Staff Sgt. Karol Rehdner said motorists should never compromise their own safety when deciding how to help people they see along the highway. However, if it is safe to do so, they should call 911 and describe what they have seen as this will initiate the correct response depending on the situation.


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Eighteen-year-old Elijah John graduated from Hope Secondary School June 2018. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

The wreckage of Elijah John’s car after it hydroplaned and slid down and embankment Nov. 5 at Herrling Island. Submitted photo

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