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Emergency crews couldn't have saved woman who drowned in Quebec river, coroner concludes

Marise Tanguay held a photo of her daughter, Josyane Tanguay Pelletier. In April 2023, the 36-year-old died after her car plummeted into a river in Montmagny, Que.  (Rachel Watts/CBC - image credit)
Marise Tanguay held a photo of her daughter, Josyane Tanguay Pelletier. In April 2023, the 36-year-old died after her car plummeted into a river in Montmagny, Que. (Rachel Watts/CBC - image credit)

Nearly a year after the death of 36-year-old Josyane Tanguay Pelletier, a coroner's report has found that the young woman's death was accidental and that emergency crews could not have saved her.

On April 21, 2023, Tanguay Pelletier was driving east toward Rimouski, Que., when her car gradually veered left, crossed the shoulder's rumble strip and travelled approximately 200 metres in the grass median, reported coroner Donald Nicole.

He said the notary and lawyer drowned after being "trapped" inside her car after it plunged into the nearby Rivière du Sud.

By the time emergency services arrived at 12:40 p.m. — 17 minutes after her car veered off the highway — Nicole said "it was impossible to securely intervene to save [her], even with the training and all the necessary equipment."

The coroner did not address emergency crews' response time — something Tanguay Pelletier's family had questioned following her death.

Josyane Tanguay Pelletier pictured with her boyfriend of three months, Karl Thériault. In April, Tanguay Pelletier died after her car plumetted into a river in Montmagny Que. Her family and friends wonder what more could have been done to save her.
Josyane Tanguay Pelletier pictured with her boyfriend of three months, Karl Thériault. In April, Tanguay Pelletier died after her car plumetted into a river in Montmagny Que. Her family and friends wonder what more could have been done to save her.

Josyane Tanguay Pelletier pictured with her boyfriend of three months, Karl Thériault. (Submitted by Karl Thériault)

Car sank within 15 minutes

In an interview with CBC in July, 2023, Josyane's mother, Marise Tanguay, and stepfather, Bertrand Potvin, said they believed their daughter could have survived the plunge.

Travelling back to the scene of the crash in the weeks following her death, Potvin and Tanguay said the site of the accident was only a three-minute drive from the fire station.

A witness to the accident, Claude Deladurantaye, says when the firefighters did arrive, he overheard them saying they couldn't enter the water because they didn't have water rescue training.

"They had a motorboat … [But] they have not been able to afford training," said Deladurantaye, speaking months after the incident.

Marise Tanguay, Bertrand Potvin and Karl Thériault visited the site of the crash in the weeks that followed.
Marise Tanguay, Bertrand Potvin and Karl Thériault visited the site of the crash in the weeks that followed.

Marise Tanguay, Bertrand Potvin and Karl Thériault visited the site of the crash in the weeks that followed. (Submitted by Marise Tanguay)

Deladurantaye, who had been working at a construction site near the river when he heard the splash, has said he was all alone in the downtown area for a long time and watched her slip into unconsciousness.

"You can't let someone die like that," said Deladurantaye

He says Tanguay Pelletier was only pulled out of the water around 1:44 p.m. — 72 minutes after the accident — by Croisières Lachance, a boating tourism company that was called when it became clear emergency crews could not intervene.

The coroner says that Tanguay Pelletier's vehicle sank in the middle of the Rivière du Sud in less than 15 minutes.

"The strong currents caused by spring flooding left no chance to leave the vehicle and for rescue workers to mobilize and intervene in time," wrote coroner Nicole.

All the evidence gathered shows that the road accident was not a result of a mechanical problem with the vehicle.

Josyane Tanguay Pelletier's family inspected her SUV at the scrap yard after her death. Submitted by Marise Tanguay
Josyane Tanguay Pelletier's family inspected her SUV at the scrap yard after her death. Submitted by Marise Tanguay

Josyane Tanguay Pelletier's family inspected her SUV at the scrap yard after her death. (Submitted by Marise Tanguay)

Montmagny evaluating resources to provide training, says coroner

Coroner Nicole said Tanguay Pelletier did not apply the brakes or "attempt a manoeuvre to re-enter the highway before plunging into the Rivière du Sud."

"It is therefore impossible to establish with certainty the cause, since she was driving," wrote Nicole.

He said the city of Montmagny and the local fire department don't have the means to safely intervene in bodies of water with strong current but measures have since been put in place to "quickly obtain external resource services who can intervene on the Rivière du Sud when necessary."

Nicole said the municipality is currently evaluating the human, material and financial resources required to provide the water rescue service.

A joint open letter from the city of Montmagny and the fire service published on Aug. 11, said the day of Tanguay Pelletier's accident will "remain a significant date for our community."

While the city said it wants to offer water rescue training, the letter said when it comes to rescues on open water, it doesn't want its personnel to improvise.

As of Aug.11, they confirmed that no specialized team had been trained and qualified in water rescue but there were plans to take steps in the fall of 2023. It is unclear if the city has since begun training.

In an emailed statement, Pierre Boucher, the director of Montmagny's fire department and civil security service, said the coroner's report confirmed the city deployed the necessary requirements. Out of respect for Tanguay Pelletier's family and the first responders who were on the scene, he said the city will not comment further.