‘Rage in my heart’: Family and friends of victims in Amqui, Que., say tragedy is ‘inconceivable’

Denis Lacombe’s brother-in-law was looking after his grandchildren when he decided to take them for a walk on a balmy Monday afternoon in Amqui, Que.

It had been a beautiful week and school was out, so alongside his partner, their 11-month-old and three-year-old grandchildren and the children’s mother, they strolled down Saint-Benoît Boulevard.

But just after 3 p.m. all five of them were struck by a pickup truck. In all, two people died and nine other people were injured.

Provincial police have identified Steeve Gagnon, 38, of Amqui, as the driver. They said he slammed into the group of pedestrians intentionally but chose his victims at random.

Cones surround a police bus to delineate a command post.
The Sûreté du Québec has set up a command post at the site of the crash. (Émilie Warren/CBC)

Gagnon turned himself in, was arrested and has been charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death, with more charges expected in the future, according to the Crown.

Lacombe says all five members of his family were transferred to hospitals and his brother-in-law is continuing to “fight for his life” at a hospital in Quebec City.

Lacombe says it’s hard to understand why someone would do such a thing.

“Why target poor people who were spending time outside to enjoy a beautiful day? I cannot understand how someone in a car could decide to crash into the sidewalk when you see there is a man and a woman with grandchildren in a stroller. It’s inconceivable. It’s unbelievable,” said Lacombe.

“It’s not vengeance, [the driver] doesn’t even know them,” said Lacombe. “What happened? I don’t know. Maybe we will never know.”

‘I really just have rage in my heart’

A custodian of the Saint-Benoît-Joseph-Labre Church, Lacombe bowed his head after ringing the bells Tuesday afternoon just after 3 p.m. to commemorate the victims. There will be a mass at the church on Friday at 7 p.m. and until then, church bells will ring each day at the same time the pedestrians were struck.

A man flips a switch in a building.
Denis Lacombe rang the church bells alongside a resident Daniel Thériault, to commemorate the victims of the crash. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

“Life will continue, but it’s not easy … I really just have rage in my heart,” said Lacombe.

“We see this in American films, we see this in TV shows. We never thought that in a little municipality like Amqui this could happen. Never did we think when my brother-in-law left to walk along the boulevard with the stroller and his grandkids… that this would happen.”

A man stands in a church, in front of rows of pews.
Denis Lacombe was at the Saint-Benoît-Joseph-Labre Church as people lit candles and left flowers and stuffed animals on the steps. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Chantal Lavigne and Marie-Claude Corneau placed two stuffed animals on the steps of the church Tuesday afternoon. They wrote on the plush toys, “our thoughts are with you.”

“I didn’t sleep much last night … In a sense it touches all of us,” said Lavigne. “We are a little community here, everyone knows each other … We came here to pay homage to those who have died and those in the hospital.”

Two people sit on the steps of a church holding a stuffed animal.
Marie-Claude Corneau, left, and Chantal Lavigne, right, wanted to show their support to the victims. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

‘I will never see their lovely faces again’

Céline Desrosiers and Élise Michaud also visited the church Tuesday to light a candle for those affected by Monday’s incident.

“There are so many people I know [in this town],” said Desrosiers, with tears in her eyes.

Michaud says they came by to offer healing prayers.

“It was a special intention that we gave … Two couldn’t be saved but we want the others to be,” said Desrosiers.

Two women stand just outside the doors of a church. One holds her hand to her eye.
Céline Desrosiers, right, wiped a tear from her eye after she lit a candle with her mother, Élise Michaud. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Daniel Thériault, a resident, recalled the two men who were killed — Gérald Charest, 65, and Jean Lafrenière, 73.

Thériault knew Charest and Lafrenière for 30 years and says they were known for taking walks around the community of 6,000. He said it’s a “nightmare” for the victims’ families and the town.

“They were gentlemen… They were friends I was blessed to have met. Always in a good mood, always energetic,” said Thériault.

“What pains me is how I will never see their lovely faces again.”

A man in a red jacket stands outside a church
Daniel Thériault knew the two men who died for close to 30 years. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

In the courtroom on Tuesday, Gagnon entered no plea. His next court appearance is April 5. He will remain in custody.

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