The death of a pastor who was killed with his wife and one of their two young sons in a fiery crash on a remote Alberta highway has shocked the small Newfoundland town where he grew up.
Shannon Wheaton, his wife, Trena Thompson-Wheaton, and their two-year-old son Ben were in a truck that was struck head-on during a collision Friday on Alberta's Highway 63.
The couple's three-year-old son, Timothy, was pulled alive from the wreckage and is expected to survive.
Wheaton, who had relocated to Fort McMurray with his family in 2010, had grown up in Frederickton, a small community in Newfoundland's Gander Bay, where his parents still live.
"I can't explain how I feel — it hurts," said Frederickton resident Bride Wheaton, reacting to news of her cousin's death.
She said people are still trying to adjust to the sudden loss.
"It's sad. It's just sad. I was in shock," she told CBC News. "Nobody was expecting that."
Wheaton had worked as a youth minister at Windsor Pentecostal Church in Grand Falls-Windsor before moving to Alberta to work with the Family Christian Centre. Trena Thompson-Wheaton, a nurse, had formerly worked at the hospital in Gander, friends said.
Photos he posted to Shannon Wheaton's Facebook page show a happy family enjoying winter fun in Alberta and sunshine during a Bermuda vacation.
Bride Wheaton said her cousin was a kind, warm man who was easy to like.
"He was a nice young man — one of the best here in Frederickton. I've got nothing bad to say about him," she said.
Posts to his Facebook wall from grieving friends emphasize his kindness and warmth, and how he and his wife had been enjoying family life in Fort McMurray.
"Our hearts are broken at the news," a friend wrote. "We are praying for peace and understanding for your families and many friends."
"Thank you for your inspiration, your passion, and your legacy," another wrote.
RCMP said preliminary reports showed that a truck carrying three people had pulled into the opposite lane to pass another vehicle, but collided instead with a truck carrying six people.
Wheaton had been driving with his family and another couple. The other woman, who has not yet been identified, was killed, while a 28-year-old man also survived the wreck.
All three people in the other truck — a man, a woman and an 11-year-old girl — were killed.
Crash revives debate of Alberta highway
The fatal collision has brought a renewed focus to Highway 63, which has single-lane traffic in each direction for more than 200 kilometres as it connects Fort McMurray and the booming oilsands with cities to the south.
The highway is notorious, having been the scene of more than 1,000 crashes between 2001 and 2005 alone, with 25 people killed.
The Alberta government has vowed to add second lanes in each direction, but the twinning project to date has covered 33 kilometres. Another 36 kilometres will be twinned by the end of 2013.