BettyLou’s heroes

Rescuers honoured with Medal of Bravery in Ottawa after saving two lives

Left to right: Hughie Olson (Quesnel) survivor; Kevin Leski (Aldergrove) works for steel company in Surrey; Governor General David Johnston; Kingsley Cheung (Quesnel) works for Babcom Industries

Left to right: Hughie Olson (Quesnel) survivor; Kevin Leski (Aldergrove) works for steel company in Surrey; Governor General David Johnston; Kingsley Cheung (Quesnel) works for Babcom Industries

BettyLou Kopeski believes she wouldn’t be alive if three young strangers hadn’t pulled her and her partner Hughie Olson to safety on a Chilcotin back road.

Kingsley Cheung, 18, Justin Ilnicki, 21 and Kevin Leski, 29 were just heading back to Williams Lake after an early morning hunting trip, Oct. 13, 2007 when they were confronted with an horrific scene near Raven Lake in the Chilcotin.

A head-on collision of a small car and pickup created a fiery inferno leaving the five occupants of the car dead and the two in the truck at imminent risk of perishing.

The three young men instantly stopped and raced to the truck pulling the driver through the shattered windshield to safety on the side of the road.

The passenger was wedged under the dash surrounded by fire.

Heroic efforts on the part of the men extracted her from the burning vehicle.

The couple had been fishing in Bella Coola and were on their way home for BettyLou’s aunt’s 85th birthday the next day.

With Olson out of danger on the side of the road urging the boys to rescue his wife, BettyLou, although unconscious and surrounded by fire, says her life will never be the same because of those precious few moments when three strangers, using a mattress from the truck’s camper shielded themselves as best they could and became her heroes.

“Prior to the three boys stopping at the scene, a pickup truck with three people  stopped but didn’t offer assistance and left as soon as the boys stopped,” she said.

“These boys didn’t hesitate, they’re true heroes.”

Kingsley, in his police statement said he couldn’t believe there were other people who stopped and didn’t help get Hughie and BettyLou out.

Airlifted to Vancouver, the couple struggled to survive. BettyLou remained unconscious, suffering multiple injuries and burns, Hughie had a split pelvis, as well as other injuries and a severe leg burn.

“My first memories are about six weeks after the collision in the burn unit at Vancouver General Hospital,” she said.

“Hughie visited every day until he was transferred first to UBC’s intermediate care, then to G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre.”

With no memory of the accident, BettyLou was told about her heroes.

“With no memory of the accident, I didn’t recognize the miracle of my survival and the role those three men played,” she said.

“Once I was fully alert, the enormity and the details saddened me.”

Five young people died in the car and the couple’s two family dogs also died. Compounded by their own pain and suffering, it was too much for BettyLou.

With many hugs and thank yous, Hughie met the three men at a B.C. Ambulance metal presentation in January 2008 in Williams Lake where he continued to recover.

It wasn’t until nearly the anniversary of the collision that BettyLou met her heroes.

When a friend mentioned the Governor General’s Medal of Bravery, BettyLou knew what to do for her heroes.

“I’m so proud of them, they risked their lives to save us and they’re part of our family now,” she said.

“We want to stay connected, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them.”

Hughie and BettyLou were at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa, to witness the three young men receiving their medals.

The men don’t think of themselves as heroes. As Kevin said to BettyLou, “anyone would have done the same.”

BettyLou knows differently.

 

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

Just Posted

Maggie Ferguson continues to deliver pet food to communities in B.C’s Central Interior and North. She hopes to make things easier by eventually purchasing a truck and trailer through fundraising efforts. (Perfect Pastures Animal Sanctuary Facebook photo)
From Delta with love, Maggie Ferguson helps northern pet owners with food

Animal sanctuary owner leads efforts in delivering thousands of pounds of pet food

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Williams Lake RCMP are investigating after suspects assaulted two employees at a convenience store and fled with cash and merchandise. (Black Press file photo)
Williams Lake RCMP investigating robbery at local convenience store

The robbery occurred Saturday evening, Feb. 27

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A student from Dawson Creek is the winner of Tolko’s Orange Shirt Day design contest for 2021. (Tolko photo)
Tolko contest features northern winner

Student from Dawson Creek beats out entries Canadawide for Orange Shirt Day design contest win

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility’s COVID-10 outbreak has been declared over by Interior Health. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID outbreak at Vernon’s Noric House declared over

10 deaths were linked to the outbreak at long-term care facility

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read