Sam Patterson’s car was still submerged in Cameron Lake when her family drove by on their way back from Tofino to meet Sam at the hospital.

Holiday becomes nightmare for family

The Patterson family seeks Port Alberni man who stopped to help rescue their sister’s dog after her car plunged into Cameron Lake

When the Patterson family of Nanoose Bay booked into a beachside resort in Tofino for Thanksgiving, they expected to enjoy the view of the Pacific Ocean, and perhaps some surfing and spa dates.

They did not expect the knock on their resort room door bringing them news that one of their members had been in an accident at Cameron Lake, her car careening off Highway 4 and into the lake.

Sam Patterson had taken an early-morning ferry from Horseshoe Bay and was on her way to join the rest of the family when her vehicle hydroplaned on the wet road and veered into the path of an oncoming logging truck.

“She narrowly missed another head-on collision before swerving into the lake,” sister Jennifer Patterson said.

Following is an excerpt of Jennifer Patterson’s first-hand account of that day, sent to the Alberni Valley News.

•••

It was to be the perfect family weekend. Three nights booked at a beachside resort in Tofino with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

The two-level cabin was a cozy A-frame, with Mum, my 16-year-old daughter Sofia and me upstairs, and Dad, my sister Sam and her chocolate lab, Berkeley, in the dog-friendly downstairs.

We picked up a Cowichan Valley turkey and all the trimmings, a chocolate cake for a month of birthdays, and a pumpkin to carve into a jack-o’-lantern. We had wine and warm sweaters and an armload of board games.

Mum, Dad, Sofia and I arrived on Friday evening, unpacked and settled in, discussing the weekend ahead as the rain pattered on the rooftop.

Sam and Berkeley would join us first thing in the morning.

It poured all night. And we slept in.

At 5:47 A.M., Sam sends a live photo of her and the dog in her car, with the caption: “On the 6:20 ferry.”

She had caught an early ferry from Vancouver and we figured she would join us by 11 a.m.

Shortly after 9 a.m., there was a knock on the door. Some of us were still in our pyjamas.

“It’s Sam,” said Sofia, as she rushed to open the door.

It wasn’t Sam. It was someone from the resort. “There’s a phone call,” he said. “It’s Sam. There’s been an emergency.”

Mum and Dad ran to reception to take the call. When they came back, their faces were white. “Sam’s car went off the road and into Cameron Lake,” said Mum. “They’ve taken her to Nanaimo General Hospital.”

Just as quickly as our weekend holiday had begun, it was all over. We booked out of the cabin and headed down the Island.

At 1:30 p.m. we arrived at Cameron Lake, the “bottomless lake” just past Cathedral Grove. We drove slowly, in silence, looking for signs of an accident.

“She dropped 15 feet into the lake,” said Mum, who was driving, tears welling in her eyes. Dad and Sofia were ahead in his car.

Near a truck with flashing lights and another orange sign, a man with a hard hat and yellow fluorescent vest was down on the rocks picking debris out of the water. We saw remnants of Sam’s car on the bank between the bushes. A side mirror. A bumper.

And Sam’s car, hatchback open, submerged beneath 14 feet of water, about 20 feet offshore.

We later learned that Sam’s car had hydroplaned on the wet road, and she had veered into the path of an oncoming logging truck. She narrowly missed another head-on collision before swerving into the lake.

The car had soared over the bank and into the water. It floated before it started to sink. Sam escaped through the rear window she had opened for the dog to stick his head out, but the dog, traumatized, refused to leave the car.

A stranger with red hair jumped into the water to save the dog. He managed to open the hatchback and a side door of the car, and free the dog, who swam to safety. A few minutes later, the car shifted and sank to the lake bottom.

Berkeley was taken to a vet in Nanaimo, and Sue and her family were reunited with the dog once Sam was released from hospital.

She was able to thank one man who stopped to help, as he left his phone number. Sam never did find out the name of the man who rescued her dog.

“He was a real hero,” she said. “And I don’t even know his name.”

•••

Sam Patterson is out of the hospital and back at home in Vancouver, recovering from minor scrapes and bruises, Jennifer said.

The Patterson family would like to thank all those who took the time to assist at the scene of the accident at Cameron Lake on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 9 a.m. In particular, those who comforted and took care of Sam, rescued her dog and retrieved her belongings from the lake.

One red-headed Port Alberni area man who drove a white Chevy pickup jumped in the lake and rescued the chocolate lab who was trapped in the car. The family would like him to please contact them via the Alberni Valley News, so he can be thanked in person. Please e-mail editor Susan Quinn at editor@albernivalleynews.com or phone 778-421-8061.

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