Dennis Saulnier rescued his daughters, two-year-old Brinley (left) and four-year-old Keegan, after their truck was driven off the road and into Cultus Lake on May 16. They are seen here with wife and mom, Rianna, at their home on June 2, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Chilliwack dad rescues two young daughters after truck plunges into lake

“I used every single one of my angels that day,” said Dennis Saulnier

A Chilliwack man who was driven off the road by an alleged drunk driver miraculously saved his own life and the lives of his two young daughters after his truck plunged into Cultus Lake.

Dennis Saulnier was driving eastbound along Columbia Valley Road near the Jade Bay boat launch on Saturday, May 16 with four-year-old Keegan and two-year-old Brinley. They were on their way to pick up dinner and ice cream.

A man driving a light-coloured sedan sped up behind him.

“He was on my tailgate so close I couldn’t see him in the rearview,” Saulnier said.

The driver tried to overtake Saulnier once, but he nearly collided with another vehicle before pulling back in behind Saulnier’s 2008 Ford F-350.

The second time he pulled out, Saulnier swerved right to avoid getting clipped. His tires caught gravel so he started to brake, but then the truck started to spin toward the mountain.

He turned the wheel to the left and gave it a bit of gas. Nothing happened for a second, and then suddenly the truck snapped forward and the next thing he saw was the briny, green water through his windshield.

Dennis Saulnier’s truck is hauled out of Cultus Lake on May 17, 2020, the day after it went into the water. (Dennis Saulnier)

When the truck hit the water, he immediately unbuckled his seatbelt and spun around to face Keegan and Brinley.

“I told them to relax,” he recalled. The truck’s nose began sinking into the cold, murky water.

Within seconds he unbuckled Keegan’s carseat and then Brinley’s.

By now he was waist-deep in water, and he could see they were dropping fast and when he looked up he could see light through the sunroof.

With one blow, he punched his fist straight through the sunroof.

“As soon as that happened, it was like an explosion inside.”

• READ MORE: Two men recognized for rescue of teens trapped in a water-filled Chilliwack ditch

• READ MORE: VIDEO: ‘Heroes’ rescue teenager trapped in vehicle in water-filled ditch in Chilliwack

The door seals broke. Windows shattered. Water came gushing in.

He closed his eyes and held onto the driver and passenger seats to prevent getting sucked out of the sunroof. When he opened his eyes a second later, all he could see was the cloudy, green lake water.

The girls were gone.

“That was the first moment of panic I had when I couldn’t physically see or feel my girls.”

He reached out and felt the roof, doors, seat and floor multiple times, but he felt nothing.

“I was scared to leave. What if they were still in the vehicle?”

He realized he was running out of air. But as he tried to swim through the sunroof, his leg was caught. He reached down to untangle himself, and slipped through the hole in the sunroof.

When he broke the surface, there was debris but no splashing. He couldn’t hear any crying. The girls must be trapped in the cab, he thought, fighting the panic.

If they were still under water he knew he had one minute to save them.

He took a quick breath and dove back down. About 10 feet down he realized hadn’t taken a big enough breath so he resurfaced.

As he was about to go back under, he spotted Brinley’s ponytail about 10 feet in front of him.

He quickly swam and grabbed her. She clung to him and cried: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

Where was Keegan?

He scanned the water. He swam toward a shape. As he got closer, he saw a pair of eyes. It was Keegan.

The scene on May 16, 2020 where Dennis Saulnier’s truck plunged into Cultus Lake near Jade Bay Boat Launch. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

He was just five feet from reaching her when she went under the water. She opened eyes wide as she started to sink, but he grabbed her and pulled her to the surface.

He had to get to shore. A large crowd of people had gathered at Jade Bay boat launch, people were on the water on jet-skis, but no one jumped in to help.

So Saulnier tucked Brinley under his right arm and started throwing Keegan towards the shore a few feet at a time while doing a sidestroke before grabbing her again.

He did it repeatedly until he was utterly exhausted.

“Every time I threw, it felt like I was going under water more and more.”

When he was about 10 feet from the shore, a man finally helped by grabbing and holding onto Keegan. When she got to the rocks and was out of the lake she puked up a bunch of water.

Saulnier calls the entire incident “miraculous.”

No one was injured.

“I used every single one of my angels that day,” he said, admitting he has aways been afraid of deep, murky water.

They were later told by RCMP that the driver was drunk and caught by police at a road block set up near Main Beach and is accused of impaired driving and failing to remain at the scene of a collision, said Saulnier’s wife Rianna.

RCMP were notified of the erratic driver by another motorist who was also passed unsafely by him. That same driver who called about the allegedly impaired driver also told RCMP that he saw Saulnier’s truck go in the water.

While RCMP couldn’t comment on any charges, they did confirm that a 43-year-old man from Popkum was stopped and taken into custody. The investigation is being forwarded to BC Prosecution Service, said Cpl. Mike Rail.

The next day, the truck, which had sank 12 metres and rested on a rock, was pulled out of the water. Had the truck not been on that rock, it would have sunk about another 20 metres into much more frigid water. (See photos below)

More than two weeks after the collision, Keegan and Brinley are understandably still traumatized. It’s an ordeal to get them into the car, they’re scared driving at 10 kilometres an hour on their own street, and when a car passes them on the highway they get upset.

They used to go to the lake every day, but not anymore.

The Saulniers are considering therapy for their daughters which, at their age, is done through play. Right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, that therapy is not available. They’ve seen their daughters re-enact underwater rescues while playing with their dolls and toys.

As for Dennis, the first two days after the incident were hard. He was tormented by the “what ifs.” But once he accepted the fact that everything worked out OK, that’s when his mental state returned to normal.

”If I wasn’t able to stay calm in hairy situations like that, I think it would have been a different outcome for sure,” Saulnier said. “I still get to hold my girls and nothing is worth more than that.”


 

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on?
Email: jenna.hauck@theprogress.com
Twitter: @PhotoJennalism

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Cultus Lake

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Masks are now compulsory at all Prince Rupert public facilities and the City reminds people to discard used masks in waste bins, a media release on Oct. 29 said. (Photo by K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Mandatory mask-wearing effective immediately at city public facilities

City of Prince Rupert makes masks compulsory to protect community health and safety

North Coast home-grown ice talent Carly Edwards from Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert takes centre ice on TV competition show Battle of the Blades Thursday nights at 8 p.m., with her partner NHL partner Kris Versteeg. (Photo supplied)
Local figure skater spotlights on TV show’s centre ice

Prince Rupert’s Carly Edwards is featured on TV competition show Battle of the Blades

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
PHOTOS: Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

B.C. Ferries is still providing ferry service between Tsawwassen and Victoria, 60 years later. (File - Black Press Media)
Ferry sailings cancelled for Oct. 29th and 30th

BC Ferries announces technical difficulties on Northern Expedition

Technical difficulties with the recording and broadcast of the Oct. 26 Prince Rupert City Council meeting mean residents were unable to watch on TV or online happenings in the meeting. (The Northern View file photo)
Technical difficulties leave public unable to access City Council meeting

Summary brief of Prince Rupert City Council meeting

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A study by SlotsOnlineCanada notes there is at least 88 hours of top-rated horror movies for Canadians to consume this Halloween. (Unsplash)
Spooks and Chill study reveals Canada’s favourite horror flicks

88 hours of top-rated horror movies can fill COVID-19 Halloween

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Most Read