The deaths of three young men in the Sooke River in February of 2020 have been deemed accidental by the BC Coroner’s Service.
The report confirms Corey Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jenson, all 20-years-old at the time, drowned in the river after their pickup truck was swept away by the force of the water.
There is no evidence of intoxication or foul play.
The three young men were at a house on Otter Point Road on January 31, 2020, when they left at around 10:30 p.m. in a 2004 Dodge Dakota pickup truck, which one of them owned.
When the men did not return home the next morning, an extensive search was conducted by local residents, multiple-jurisdiction search and rescue teams and emergency services.
On February 2, 2020, the heavily damaged pickup truck was found wedged in the trees along the bank of the river. The bodies of Corey and Eric were found later that day submerged in the water and A.J. was found in the river two days later when the high water levels subsided.
On the evening the men went out, Sooke River had overflowed its banks due to heavy rainfall.
A witness from around 11:30 p.m. that night says the lower parking lot at the Sooke Potholes Regional Park was flooded, and that large trees were being carried away by the strong current.
According to the report, it is believed that the three men went to the Sooke River to “puddle jump”.
“Puddle-jumping” is where people drive their cars through large pools of standing water to watch the water spray up alongside their vehicles, a common activity for local youth.
The coroner’s service says instead of encountering a puddle, the young trio entered a pool of water that was actually an extension of the Sooke River, and the strong force pulled the truck into the river, making self-rescue impossible.
Approximately 290 metres before the lower parking lot of the Sooke Potholes Regional Park, a gate stands on Sooke River Road. When closed, it stops both travel lanes, preventing anyone travelling towards the park from reaching the parking area.
According to the report, the gate was open at the time of the incident.
Discussions between BC Parks and the District of Sooke led to the decision that as of April 1, 2020, Sooke was to take responsibility for maintaining this area. The district has contracted personnel who attend the sight and close the gate each evening and open it every morning.