Friends of the three Osoyoos residents killed in a tragic head-on collision last week are fondly remembering them as popular and respected citizens who loved living in this community.
Those killed in the accident last Tuesday afternoon include Judy Jackson, 63 and the husband and wife Bernard Lee, 78, and Diane Lee, 60.
Both women were pronounced dead at the scene and Bernard Lee was left fighting for his life after the collision, which took place on the stretch of road known locally as “Graveyard Hill.” Bernard Lee died later that evening in hospital in Kelowna.
Friends of the deceased were having a very difficult time dealing with their deaths, but several wanted to share their feelings about three people who shared a passion for life and helping others.
“I’ve known Bernie and Diane for about the last 10 years as they moved into the White Sands (condominium complex in downtown Osoyoos) about the same time as I did,” said Trish Hooper. “Diane was a larger than life person for those of us who live in this complex because she has been the strata president for about half of those 10 years.
“She had wonderful organizational skills and every single person who lived in this complex got to know her well as she poured her heart into making this strata work.
“She put a lot of time and effort into making this place the great place it is to live. She knew everybody and knew how to talk to everyone. She was just a very nice person and always had the feelings of others in mind when she made decisions. She was a wonderful person and she made a wonderful strata president and will be dearly missed.”
Her husband was also a charming and well-liked man who volunteered a lot of his time doing odd chores to make White Sands a great place to live, said Hooper.
“Bernie was a little older than Diane at age 78, but you would never know he was that old based on the way he acted,” she said. “He was always volunteering to do this and do that and he did things like collect bottles from the complex and bring them to the bottle depot and we would use that money to upgrade little things around here. He also knew where all the bargains were in town and he would let everyone know. He and his wife were actually coming back from a trip to the Safeway in Penticton, where seniors get a nice discount, when this terrible accident took place.”
Theresa Toepfer, who managed the Dairy Queen outlet in Osoyoos for more than 10 years when Judy Jackson and her husband Walter owned it, said she is still having a very difficult time coming to terms with the fact Jackson died so suddenly.
“I worked for Judy for 10 years and we became very good friends,” said Toepfer, who along with her husband Spencer socialized often with Jackson and her husband. “She treated me like a daughter and I loved her dearly.
“I’m still in shock over what happened. I really can’t believe it. To see three people killed in the blink of an eye is really hard to believe.”
Jackson had been battling cancer for some time, but appeared in great spirits the last time she saw her a few days before the tragedy, said Toepfer.
“She always came into the store (OS Sound on Main Street that is owned by Toepfer and her husband) whenever she was downtown and she was in the store a few days before this happened and seemed in a really great mood,” she said.
The accident happened less than 100 metres from the driveway of the home owned by Jackson and her husband, she said.
Jackson was a gregarious and friendly person that everyone liked, she said.
“She was very pleasant and she had a very big heart,” she said.
“Even when she was diagnosed with cancer, she didn’t let it bother her and she plugged along and was usually in very good spirits.”
Toepfer said she is going to miss Jackson dearly.
“I’m going to miss her a lot,” she said. “She was a wonderful lady and always treated me so well. It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”
Lou Turcotte, another neighbor of the Lee’s who lived in the White Sands complex, agreed they are going to be missed by everyone who knew them.
“I served on the strata board for a brief term with Diane during her first term as strata president and we got to know each other pretty well,” he said. “She was a heck of a nice lady and she always had the best interests of our strata at heart.
“Away from the strata board she was a very thoughtful and kind woman, but when she was with the board she was all business, but she was greatly respected because everyone knew she wanted the best for everyone who lived here.”
Her husband was a quiet man, but one who easily made friends and was well liked, he said.
It’s still hard to believe that this tragedy took place, said Turcotte.
“It was really terrible when we heard the news,” he said. “It’s still kind of a shock to believe they’re both gone. I never heard anyone ever say a bad word about either Diane or Bernie, so a lot of the people who live here are having a tough time dealing with this.”
Hooper agreed and said Bernie and Diane won’t be forgotten.
“It happened so suddenly and so fast and I know a lot of the residents here are having a tough time,” she said. “They will both be dearly missed.”
Because the Lees did not want a funeral or memorial service, friends and family organized a celebration of their lives Tuesday afternoon in Osoyoos.
Diane Lee participated in a weekly “ladies Friday night out” with other women from the White Sands complex for several years and those ladies will continue the tradition and raise a toast in her honour this Friday evening, she said.
RCMP said alcohol and speed did not appear to play any role in this tragedy.
Highway traffic was backed up for several kilometres in either direction following the deadly crash, which took place around 1 p.m.
The RCMP officer in charge of the accident scene said Jackson, who was driving a white minivan northbound, crossed the centre line and struck a southbound grey sports utility vehicle (SUV), driven by Bernard Lee, heading towards Osoyoos when the collision occurred.
The officer said Diane Lee and Jackson were pronounced dead at the scene.
Numerous RCMP officers responded to the scene as did volunteer firefighters from the Osoyoos Volunteer Fire Department.
An accident reconstruction expert from Kelowna arrived at the accident scene late Tuesday afternoon.
Traffic was backed up from about a quarter mile south of from the accident scene all the way to just outside Osoyoos town limits at around 3:30 p.m.
Traffic coming southbound from Penticton was stretched back as far as the eye could see in the other direction.
Volunteer firefighters and RCMP officers were diverting traffic through 176 Avenue, which runs from the top to bottom of Graveyard Hill in both directions, but vehicles were moving very slowly two hours after the collision occurred.
Traffic congestion remained in both directions until past 7 p.m.
Graveyard Hill has been the site of numerous serious collisions over the past several years.
Special to the Chronicle