By Stuart Fullarton
Sylvan Lake News
A portion of downtown Sylvan Lake was evacuated Saturday morning after a truck crashed into the Telus building on 50 Ave., severing natural gas lines in the process.
Emergency crews arrived on scene at about 5 a.m., and upon realizing the dangerous nature of the situation, pulled back and called in ATCO Gas crews.
Power in the area was shut off between about 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., and nearby residences were evacuated for safety.
Nearby businesses also remained closed throughout the evacuation period.
The truck was found to be void of any occupants, but caused a “large hole in the wall” of the building it crashed into, according to an early RCMP release.
Wind helped dissipate gas released into the air, but a buildup in the Telus building required crews to dig in front of the neighbouring Frontline Worship Centre to block the line and prevent further flow.
After being adequately vented, the building was checked for gas by ATCO, and clearance given for the truck’s removal.
RCMP in the afternoon declared the emergency over, and the area safe.
Thomas James Hanger, 21, of Three Hills, has been charged with dangerous driving causing bodily harm, public mischief, failure to remain at the scene of a collision, and driving a motor vehicle with no insurance.
RCMP said Tuesday that the truck’s driver and three other occupants fled before police arrived on the scene.
Later that day, the driver told police his truck had been stolen.
Their investigation revealed, however, that he was the one driving it at the time of the crash, which caused “significant head injuries” to one 24-year-old male from Sylvan Lake, according to an RCMP release.
He’s since been treated and released.
A memorial service lunch at the nearby Legion was one of the day’s events affected by the evacuation, as organizers scrambled to find a stand-in venue close by.
An extraordinary team effort resulted in the lunch being successfully relocated to Memorial Presbyterian Church, after food was removed from the Legion by firefighters.
“There was nothing we could do, so we had to make other plans,” said Ladies’ Auxiliary past president Kathie Duncan. “We all pulled together and everybody did what they had to do, and we got it done. Everybody was really helpful.”
After firefighters received permission to retrieve the food, a number of helping hands ensured it made its way to the church.
Legion 1st VP Gordon Graham, branch manager Lisa Sweet and Ed Stevenson of Sylvan Lake Funeral Home were among those pitching in.
Deputy Fire Chief Steve Scanland said he wanted to do everything in his power to make sure the memorial took place safely as scheduled.