FORT MCMURRAY, - A pastor with a Pentecostal church, his wife and their youngest son are among the seven people who died in a two vehicle crash in northern Alberta, a leader with the church says.
Rev. Edwin Rideout of Family Christian Centre says Shannon Wheaton, his wife Trena, and their youngest son, Benjamin, all died in Friday's crash between two pickups on Highway 63 between Edmonton and Fort McMurray.
Rideout says the couple's oldest son, Timothy, 3, survived with minor injuries.
"(Wheaton) was one of the most gentle and generous individuals I have ever known," Rideout said in an email.
"I considered him my son in ministry."
RCMP have not confirmed the identities of any of the victims.
Police say Friday's crash happened near Wandering River when a pickup truck going north on Highway 63 pulled out to pass another vehicle, colliding with another pickup travelling south.
Six people were in one of the pickups, while three were in the truck that had tried to pass.
The collision resulted in a serious fire, police said.
Passing motorists pulled a teenaged girl from one of the pickups, police said. She was airlifted to a hospital in Edmonton, but died a few hours later from her injuries.
A 28-year-old man were also airlifted to Edmonton hospitals. He is reported to be in serious but stable condition, police said.
Police on Saturday said a 34-year-old man, a 34-year-old woman, a 28-year-old woman, an 11-year-old girl, and a two-year-old boy were among the victims. Two other victims had not been identified, police said.
Rideout says Wheaton joined his staff at Family Christian Centre in Fort McMurray in 2010, but he and Wheaton had previously worked together for five years with a congregation in Springdale, NL.
The church's website says a special service is planned for Sunday.
Rideout says grief counsellors will be available at the church for anyone who may need them.
"Thank all Canadians for their love and prayers," Rideout said.
The highway is a busy route stretching north of Edmonton to Fort McMurray and north to the oilsands, where thousands of people work and tonnes of material and equipment moves daily.
Between 2001 and 2005, more than 1,000 crashes killed 25 people and injured 257 others on the highway.
Police say it was snowing in the area at the time of Friday's crash.
Mike Allen, who is the newly-elected Progressive Conservative member of the legislature for the riding of Fort McMurray-Wood-Buffalo, says he's seen drivers attempt to pass 20 vehicles at a time on Highway 63 between Fort McMurray and Edmonton.
The Alberta government announced it would twin the 240-kilometre stretch from Edmonton to Fort McMurray in 2006, but Allen says challenges with the terrain have meant only 16 kilometres of twinning have been completed.
Allen notes a lot of planning and preparation work for the twinning project has been done behind the scenes, and that Premier Alison Redford told people in Fort McMurray during this month's election campaign that the job remains a priority.
Anyone who takes the road knows it can be scary, Allen said.
"Most of us who take the road on a regular basis plan our trips around when it will be less busy," he said.
"Thursday and Friday are not good times," he adds.
Percentages show population growth from 2006 census to 2011 census. Source: Canada 2011 Census
A view of the Husky Energy upgrader facility inLloydminster, Saskatchewan where bitumen and heavy oil are converted to synthetic oil. (The Canadian Press Images/Bayne Stanley)
Photo: YouTube screencap
Photo: City of Cold Lake
Photo: Kathy Dempsey/Flickr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: City of Strathmore
Photo: City of High River Prairie grain elevator and grain storage bins near High River, Alberta with the Rocky Mountains visible in the distance. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Photo: City of Steinbach
This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows a tar sands mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada. (The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
Photo: Xz1303, Wikimedia Commons