CALGARY — Retired Alberta firefighter Les Toews saved two more lives -- the lives of his grandchildren -- before dying in front of his own children Friday evening.
Toews was one of three people killed when two pickup trucks collided head-on just after 6 p.m. on Hwy. 21, south of Three Hills, about 130 km northeast of Calgary.
One of his sons was also in the vehicle -- the other, a firefighter, was one of the emergency responders to arrive at the scene.
The 69-year-old Linden-based firefighter was trapped as both vehicles -- a southbound truck pulling a utility trailer and a northbound truck pulling a horse trailer -- erupted into flames, Sgt. Patricia Neely, of the Beiseker RCMP, said.
"He was trapped but he managed to manoeuvre to reach the children in the back and assist in getting them out the driver's side window to their father, who had managed to get out the other side," she said.
"The grandfather handed the children through the window to the father."
Jeremy Regehr, fire chief for the Linden Volunteer Fire Department, confirmed Toews was a retired Linden firefighter, and the father of two current firefighters.
"It was many years ago that he served -- so many of our firefighters weren't as well acquainted with him personally -- our loss is probably felt deepest through the hurt of (his two sons)."
Regehr spoke with the father of the two children in the truck Saturday morning, and told QMI Agency they're expected to recover.
They'd been rushed to hospital with serious burn injuries.
Toews' family could not be reached by QMI for comment.
Two people in the other truck were also killed, as was one of the horses being pulled in the trailer. A second horse was injured.
Neely, who attended the crash, called it the most horrific she's seen in her years of service, and one that investigators are still working to discover the cause of.
Speed and alcohol have been ruled out -- Neely said the crash was a tragic accident.
"Mechanical failure is still what we're looking at," she said.
"We are looking at the possibility of a steering malfunction."
Saturday, at the scene of the crash, nearby resident Kathy Bishoff felt compelled to walk over and lay down flowers. She didn't know those who'd perished there hours before.
"I wouldn't want to die on the side of the road and not have anyone pay respect."