Three days after her husband was killed in a head-on collision with a dump truck while driving to work, Brenda Michie visited the site where he died.
There was little traffic in the 19800-block of 16 Avenue Friday afternoon, save for large tandem trucks “flying by” as Michie drove to the top of the street, got out of her car and walked the stretch of road where her partner of two decades, Jim Neiss, spent his final moments.
“I just wanted to do it,” the lifelong Peninsula resident said. “Just like I want to see him and I want to touch him. I guess I just don’t want to let him go.”
Neiss was driving his Ford Explorer pickup just after 5:30 a.m. Jan. 18 when he was hit by a Sterling dump truck that had crossed over a double-yellow line to pass a small white car.
The force of the crash compressed the front section of the Explorer into less than half its width.
The larger truck – which was towing a “pup” trailer – was virtually unscathed. Its driver, a 62-year-old Burnaby man, was released without going to hospital. He will likely face charges under provincial traffic regulations and the Canadian Criminal Code once the investigation of the accident is completed, police said.
Michie said she went to the crash site and “just had a feel” for what had transpired.
“It was awful. It was terrible,” she said of being there. “I can just see him driving along there and then to be faced with something… I don’t think he had any time at all.”
Neiss – who had been a bus driver with the Langley school district since 2003 – always left early for work to avoid the morning rush, Michie said, adding he had been “distressed with 16th” and the increase in traffic and bad driving he’d noticed over the years. “It’s kind of ironic that he would leave early to avoid it and was confronted with it.”
Michie said she wants to be part of any efforts to make the road safer.
“If we don’t change it, somebody else will die. Something needs to change. I don’t know the answer, (but) I want to be part of the group that finds an answer,” she said, noting she plans to focus on the issue in the future. “I’m keeping that on my burner. I’m dealing with Jimmy right now.”
Michie, family and friends have been remembering Neiss as a one-of-a-kind, strong-willed man who was looking forward to celebrating his 20th anniversary with Michie Feb. 2, and his 60th birthday less than a week later, on Feb. 7.
The Langley school district flew its flags at half-staff last week in his honour, and has provided grief counsellors for his co-workers and the children who rode on his bus.
Michie’s sister, Maureen McMillan, described Neiss as an opinionated man who loved to tease. He often took the opposite side of a debate so he could “sit back and watch the fun,” she said.
His love for colour is evident in family photos taken on White Rock beach, in which Neiss’ bright yellow socks stick out beneath his pant legs. His passion for second-hand treasures is visible in the couple’s South Surrey home, which is decorated with an eclectic collection of thrift-store finds.
“He was the junkyard dog,” McMillan said. “All the thrift-store ladies knew him.”
Neiss was one to connect with a person and “see what they’re all about,” Michie said, adding that his many friends have been dealt a great loss.
“They’re very sad because they’re never going to be teased by Jimmy, have a drink with Jimmy… have a cigar with Jimmy.”
Michie said Neiss developed the “base for what he became” during his upbringing in New York.
Born in Meerane, Germany, Neiss’ mother brought him and sister Sunny to the Big Apple in 1960, where he lived before moving to Toronto and eventually working his way west to Calgary.
It was there that he received a Class 1 licence and worked as a truck driver for Alberta’s culture department, driving trucks with tandem trailers for eight years in his late 20s to early 30s.
After happening upon White Rock when visiting a friend, he moved to the city in 1986, and met Michie shortly after.
Michie was on the back of her then-boyfriend’s motorcycle when Neiss, who was sitting in a Marine Drive cafe and also had a bike, came over and struck up a conversation.
Throughout their relationship, the couple shared a number of Peninsula homes, as well as a 1974 Vanguard motor home, which they drove on a six-month road trip through the western U.S. in the fall of 2000.
Michie said the two of them had fun together, even if it was just listening to music while getting the house ready for company.
“We had a party here all by ourselves. Just the two of us would have a great time.”
Twenty years together didn’t change Michie’s eagerness to come home to Neiss at the end of the day, even if it was just to sit and talk.
“I still wanted to get home and see Jimmy,” she said. “I think the biggest thing I’ll miss, is I’ll miss him when I come home… I’m going to miss him hugging me. He was a great hugging person.”
Michie became emotional when thinking how else to describe her husband.
“He was the love of my life,” she said through tears. “My soulmate.”
The weekend before the crash, Michie said she and Neiss were watching a news story about a man who died earlier this month in a Tucson, Ariz. shooting, after pushing his wife out of the line of fire.
Neiss told Michie he had been wondering what he would say to her if he was that man, and only had moments to live.
“‘I’ve been thinking about it and I’d tell you thanks for loving me’,” Michie recalled him saying. “And I said, ‘well, thanks for loving me.’”
A memorial for Neiss will be held 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, 1284 184 St. Everyone is welcome.