Twin’s death inspires years of activism

The Province, Vancouver BC
October 22, 2006

It was the day after their 18th birthday and twin sisters Cara and Mairin Johnston were returning home to Richmond following successful interviews at Metrotown’s Disney Store.In four days, they were going to start college together. New jobs, bright futures and the Johnston twins were on top of the world.

Cara was driving her parents minivan. Mairin had opted to ride with her new boyfriend in his black Nissan 300ZX. The young driver of the sports car revved his engine and sped away from Cara at the intersection of Rumble Street and Boundary Road.

By the time Cara caught up with the couple, The Nissan was a mangled wreck and Cara’s best friend in the world was dead.

The Nissan -traveling at 150km/h, three times the posted limit- had skidded sideways over a grass median and into an oncoming sedan. The accident on Boundary Hill that summer day in 1994 made all the papers. Cara, now 30 and married with an infant son, remembers the horrific crash like it was yesterday. Some memories you just don’t shake, agree RCMP Cpl. Dave Williams and paramedic Ted Swan, first responders that August afternoon.

Since the accident, Cara has taken her ICBC sponsored Drive to Save Lives Tour to over 2,000 schools.

She has spoken to over a million students about traffic safety, visiting schools across Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

“I’m not the only one who has a story,” says Cara, who tours 200 high schools annually. “There is nothing special about me or my story. The fact is we lose 90 people an hour in car crashes worldwide.”

“We cannot accept these losses. We cannot accept these losses thinking that ‘Oh, its just part of life.’ It doesn’t have to be.”

In the years since Mairin’s death, Dave and Ted have also tour high schools, sharing personal experiences from the front lines of B.C.’s crash sites with thousands of young and future drivers.

Dave ( the officer photographed in the cap) was a technical crash investigator with the Burnaby RCMP when this picture was taken. Today, he is the Richmond RCMP’s collision reconstructionist. Ted has worked as a paramedic for 19 years. Before a recent reassignment, he attended three to four casualty collisions each week.

For the fourth and final installment of our Zero Crash Month series, we asked Cara, Dave and Ted to share their thoughts and recollections with Province Readers.

“The point of impact was my sister’s door handle. It doesn’t matter that she was wearing her seatbelt or that there were airbags in the car. They don’t test seatbelts and airbags for 150km/h.” -Cara

“We were first car on the scene. It was one of the bigger crash scenes I’v come across. The driver of the black car had a hip injury, his passenger was deceased. The injuries in the other car, one elderly lady had a leg fracture and the other was having a heart attack. Cara was visibly distraught at the scene.” -Ted

“Mairin and I grew up believing it was never going to happen to us. Mairin and I thought we were going to grow old together and be 80 -year-old twins running around Richmond wearing matching outfits and holding hands.” -Cara

“There are going to be days when I miss my sister more. Like when I walked down the aisle, the only person that was supposed to be my maid of honor was my sister. So I didn’t have a maid of honor.” -Cara

“Just a quick and sudden movement by the driver, overcorrection, can cause the vehicle to start to rotate and lose adhesion to the road surface.” -Dave

“We were triaging everything, the firefighters were trying to rip the car apart, police making sure none of us get hit. It looks like organized chaos, but if you watch closely, you can see the orchestra in it.” -Ted

“They put me in an ambulance and strapped me down to the bed and I will never forget it. A police officer from Burnaby RCMP came into the back of that ambulance and told me, ‘I’m sorry Cara, your sister didn’t make it.’ She never made it out of the car.” – Cara

“I can recall Cara on the side of the road screaming. Screaming her sister’s name over and over again.” -Ted

“We still call them car accidents, but by definition an accident is something you can’t prevent from happening. It wasn’t an accident that killed my sister, it was a really bad choice that killed my sister.” -Cara