WITHROW, Alta. — A farm family from west-central Alberta has been torn apart by a harvest-time accident in which three young sisters were buried in a truck full of canola.
Catie Bott, 13, and her 11-year-old twin sisters, Jana and Dara, died after they were trapped while playing on the truck Tuesday evening. The accident happened around dinner time on a farm near Withrow, about 200 kilometres north of Calgary.
RCMP say adults were able to pull the girls from the truck and perform CPR, but two of them couldn't be revived. The third girl was flown by air ambulance to a children's hospital in Edmonton but died overnight.
In a statement read by the RCMP on Wednesday, the parents said the girls grew up on a farm and they don't regret introducing their daughters to a farm lifestyle.
"Our kids died living life on the farm,'' the family said. "It is a family farm. We do not regret raising and involving our kids ... on our farm. It was our life.
"Thank you for all of the overwhelming support that we have received from all of the first responders, neighbours and friends. We would ask the media to respect our privacy at this time of grief.''
Canola is a plant with a bright-yellow flower from the same botanical family as cauliflower and cabbage. When crushed, the fine seeds produce oil that is used in everything from margarine to bio diesel.
Exactly what happened is still under investigation.
Emergency crews initially said the girls were in the truck while it was being loaded, but the RCMP said they were playing on the loaded truck.
Sgt. Mike Numan, who became emotional while reading the family's statement, would not answer any questions.
"This is hitting all of us very hard,'' Numan said. "Front-line responders are routinely called out to sad situations, but things are always harder for everyone when kids are involved.''
Brad Volkman, superintendent of the Wildrose School Division, said the family is well-known at an elementary school the girls used to attend in nearby Condor, Alta.
"The three girls did not attend the school as of late, but had been attending the school up until two years ago, and in a small-knit community like Condor, they are known well by our staff and our students,'' he said. "In fact, the family still would support the school in tremendous ways — taking part in attending Christmas concerts, bringing baking for the staff and students.
"They will be sorely missed.''
Pastor Brian Allan of the Withrow Gospel Mission said people in the tiny community quickly went to the farm to help the parents and their son.
"They are obviously devastated,'' Allan said. "There is just a deep sense of loss and sadness.''
Allan said the parents and children have been strong members of the church and have lived in the area for years.
"We are going to be spending time with them. I know that there are guys down there working around the farm right now, cleaning things up and just trying to get things back to some sense to normal,'' he said.
"We feel the impact of this loss in a substantial way.''
Neighbours plan to finish the harvest for the family.
— With files from reporters John Cotter and Chris Purdy in Edmonton.
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