Clearwater was reeling from shock and grief on Monday over the loss of two young teachers whose car plunged from the Yellowhead Highway into the North Thompson River.
Skye and Courtney Buck, both 30, were returning home on Sunday when their vehicle left the highway at Wolf's Corner, 17 kilometres south of Clearwater. Police believe road conditions - which remained slippery and treacherous on Monday - were a contributing factor in the accident.
A motorist following behind the Buck's vehicle saw the car go over the 30-metre embankment.
"Efforts were made to locate the vehicle, which was now completely submerged," said Cpl. Bart Doerr of the Clearwater Central Interior Services.
A debris field and personal items on the river bank were the only evidence of a crash scene. It wasn't until late Monday that a police dive team, working with search and rescue, was able to locate the vehicle and begin recovery efforts.
"The occupants of the vehicle at this point are considered missing and drowned," Doerr said. "This is truly a tragic and unfortunate incident and it's being felt throughout the community of Clearwater."
The Bucks were described by acquaintances in Clearwater as a beautiful young couple at the prime of their lives. Both of them had deep family roots in the community. She was seven months pregnant.
Both were teachers - he taught math at Clearwater secondary and she taught Grade 1 at Raft River elementary - and the impact was felt profoundly at both schools on Monday. Both of Skye Buck's parents teach at Clearwater secondary as well, compounding the impact of the tragedy.
Darren Coates, principal of the high school, said the district's critical incident response team arrived to give support to students and staff. In addition, district staff from Kamloops who have worked at the Clearwater schools arrived to provide backup support.
"We want to keep the kids emotionally safe," Coates said. "The response has been great and I think we all feel well supported. We're just trying to make it through the day."
Raft River principal Mike Bowden said the same services were available to his school.
"At any age, it's hard to deal with," Bowden said.
Bob Cuming, a retired teacher, walked to the secondary school to offer comforting words to former colleagues. He taught Skye Buck in high school. The young athlete went on to distinguish himself in university basketball and returned to coach several sports.
"I'd just like to say it was a Cinderella story," he said of the couple. They both grew up in Clearwater, headed off the university to study, then returned to devote their careers to the community.
"Both kids were absolutely gorgeous and very much high school sweethearts."
"We're all in this together as a community," Cuming said, adding that Clearwater is more tightly knit than many towns its size.
Nevin Gleddie was Skye's basketball coach at Thompson Rivers University.
He learned about the couple's accident on Monday when a former student called him.
"Courtney was the nicest person you ever met," he said.
"I had a great deal of affection for her. And Skye, he was the type of guy who would do anything for you. He was loyal, he had very little ego, was quick to pass the credit onto other people. He was probably the hardest-working player I ever had."
Gleddie lives in Edmonton and has stayed in touch with former players he coached. He said Skye and Courtney left such an indelible mark on him he says he'll make sure he attends their funerals.
As for the accident that claimed the young couple and their unborn child, Gleddie hopes RCMP can find the cause.
"Until they get the car and find the clues, we'll never know what happened," he said. "But I can tell you this: if they had a chance to get out, I think Skye would have put his wife on his shoulders to keep her dry and he would have done his best to get them to shore. That much I know for sure."
Like many in the community, Clearwater Mayor John Harwood knows the Bucks and the Dekelvers, Courtney Buck's family.
"It's an extremely difficult day, both from a community point of view and a school district point of view," said Harwood, who also serves as a school trustee.
"They were part of our future, the people we lost today," Harwood said.
Doerr said some of the RCMP officers know the families quite well, so it was a difficult situation even for them.
"I think with this type of traumatic effect in a community, I think everyone needs to lean on each other for support," said Doerr.
He encouraged people to slow down on the roads.
"Although winter came slower than other years, we're into it now."
He also said vehicles should be equipped with snow tires, although there was no indication on Monday that the Buck's vehicle was not.
As darkness descended on the highway south of town, crews were preparing to remove the vehicle from the river.
"I knew 'em," said Randy Roy as he watched. "Everybody knew 'em. With Clearwater, the whole town knew them."
© Kamloops Daily News