Last Monday, as flooding and mudslides ravaged British Columbia, Dean Hopkins got a distraught call from his close friend’s wife, saying her husband was missing.
That phone call kicked off several stress-filled days for Hopkins, which ended in tragedy when his old rugby buddy Steven Taylor was confirmed dead.
Taylor moved to B.C. from Calgary about a year ago for construction work, and when his wife lost touch with him while he was driving through one of the slide-affected areas last weekend, she needed help, Hopkins said.
Hopkins jumped into action to find his missing friend.
“In a time of crisis, information is not too forthcoming. And when you’ve got a woman who’s missing her husband, it’s pretty traumatic if you’ve got no family support,” he said Sunday.
Hopkins said Taylor had been at a work camp north of Vancouver, but the camp shut because of the bad weather. He decided to head home despite the bad roads, and called his wife to let her know.
Then there was no further word.
Hopkins started calling Taylor’s colleagues and listened closely to eyewitness accounts of a mudslide that had hit south of Lillooet. He called hotels in case they’d seen Taylor. Taylor’s wife filed a missing-person report.
“His cellphone, whenever I call him, is always picked up,” Hopkins said. But no one was picking it up this time.
The days passed and they held out hope, he said. But then RCMP phoned Taylor’s wife late Wednesday, saying they’d found three bodies and that one of them matched the description she’d given them. She immediately broke the news to Hopkins.
Mounties said Saturday that the bodies of three men were recovered from a landslide area on Highway 99 between Lillooet and Pemberton, along a section of the route known as the Duffey Lake Road. They said the bodies were discovered over the course of last week, and that they raised the death toll from that mudslide to four.
The body of a woman was recovered by crews not far away last Monday.
Hopkins, who’s ex-military, said he’s experienced the loss of men he considered brothers before. But it’s still not easy, and he said that getting the news of Taylor’s death left him “gutted” and sick to his stomach.
“There’ll be hundreds, if not thousands of rugby friends, players, throughout our city and province that will be feeling exactly the same. That was the kind of man he was,” Hopkins said, noting Taylor’s wife was devastated.
“There’s a difference between losing someone and having someone ripped out of your life at short notice. She is absolutely inconsolable.”
Hopkins said he’ll be heading to Vancouver soon to help. In addition to a wife, he said Taylor leaves behind two daughters, two sons and a grandchild.
The B.C. Coroners Service issued a statement over the weekend saying it would investigate the deaths and make recommendations, where possible, to prevent similar situations in the future.
— By Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press