BRITISH COLUMBIA
04/30/2013 02:32 EDT | Updated 06/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Coroners' service says five members of same family were wiped out in B.C. crash

SURREY, B.C. - There has been just one topic of conversation this week inside Darshi's Hair & Beauty Centre in Surrey, B.C. — the annihilation of a local family during a traffic accident.

The BC Coroners Service released on Tuesday the names of the five people killed when a 2012 Dodge Caravan collided with 1994 Toyota Corolla at an intersection just minutes from the U.S. border late Sunday morning.

Dead are Pawandeep Arjot, 31, her two children, Annish Sachdeva, five, and Jessica Sachdeva, three, as well as her sister-in-law Neelam Dhingra, 47, and her 68-year-old mother-in-law Vidya Sachdeva.

"It's shocking news in the Punjabi community," said Darshi Dhillon, owner of the beauty centre. "Everybody, you know, like their morale is down now."

The news has hit Dhillon especially hard because her business is located in the same strip mall as one owned by the Sachdeva family.

In fact, Sachdeva Sweets & Restaurant Ltd. opened at almost the same time as her beauty centre, said Dhillon.

"They're such a hard-working family," said Dhillon who opened her business about 11 years ago.

Arjot came from Punjab, India, and her children grew up in front of Dhillon's eyes, she said.

Dhillon said she was in Calgary, Alta., Sunday when her husband called to tell her about the tragedy, and soon clients were calling her to relay the devastating news.

The accident occurred at the intersection of Pacific Highway and 32nd Avenue when police say the driver of the Caravan allegedly failed to stop at a red light and collided with the Corolla.

The 46-year-old driver of the van from Langley, B.C., is still in hospital in serious but stable condition.

"We're still putting together a lot of the different pieces of the puzzle here, talking to more witnesses, as well as going through the analysis of collision-scene evidence, physical evidence seized," said Cpl. Bert Paquet of the Surrey, RCMP.

Paquet said police were not pursuing the minivan at the time of the crash, nor was the vehicle stolen.

"We're looking at all possibilities as far as contributing factors to this accident," he added. "Drugs and alcohol have not been ruled out, however, right now we don't believe that they are factors."

But police suspect speed was a contributing factor, although they aren't prepared to estimate yet what that speed was, said Paquet.

While he didn't have an exact number of officers involved in the investigation, Paquet said a major part of the RCMP's collision-investigation team is now hard at work.

"It's the top priority for out traffic services and (a) reconstruction analyst at this point in time," he said.

The surviving husband and father is absolutely devastated, said Gurpreet Singh, a Radio India talk-show host and newscaster who paid his respects during a visit to the family home Monday.

"Five members of a family are gone in just one blow," said Singh. "It's very sad and very difficult for him to handle."

Back at the strip mall, the sweets' shop remains closed, said Dhillon who added she, too, expected to stop by the family home after work Tuesday.

Particularly hard to handle are memories of the children, which kept her awake Monday night.

"A whole family is all shattered, gone," she said.

A funeral has been scheduled for Friday morning at the Riverside Funeral Home and Crematorium in Delta, B.C.

— by Keven Drews in Vancouver