Tommy Alto members (left to right) Chartwell Kerr

Crash leaves South Surrey musicians badly injured

Two Tommy Alto band members in critical condition after van hits a boulder east of Hope

It was a dream tour that turned into a nightmare.

On the way home to the Peninsula from a gig in Alberta, Diamond In The Rock 2012-winner Tom Vander Kam and his band, Tommy Alto, were in a single-vehicle crash Monday that sent two members, drummer Chartwell Kerr and bassist Paul Engels, to Royal Columbian Hospital in critical condition.

The rest are at home, nursing a variety of injuries, lead singer Vander Kam said Tuesday.

They were on their way back from a swing through Alberta and Saskatchewan, culminating in a date at The Blackbird in Coleman, Alta. on Sunday night. It had been a highly successful road trip for the alt-rock band, which has been together barely 10 months.

“We couldn’t have asked for better – five best friends doing what we all dreamed of doing,” he said. “It was unreal. Everything was so perfect to that point.”

Trying to make schedules, and feeling homesick, the band decided to drive all night after packing up after the gig in Coleman.

The 15-passenger Ford van, carrying all five members, their roadie and band equipment, left the road around 7:30 a.m. on the Crow’s Nest Highway just east of Hope and struck a boulder, going into what Vander Kam described as “a barrel roll.”

“We were on a straight stretch, a little bit of a downhill slope, with gravel shoulders,” he said. “I guess we drifted.”

The van was towing a trailer, which Vander Kam believes kept the van moving after it hit the boulder.

Most seriously injured were Kerr and Engels, both of whom are suffering from head trauma, collapsed lungs, internal bleeding and broken ribs. In addition Kerr’s left leg was “shattered’ when the engine of the van smashed through the dashboard at impact.

“The only reason he wasn’t hurt worse is he was… leaning back asleep,” Vander Kam said. “The engine would have shattered his entire body if he’d been any closer.”

Also hurt were guitarist Ben Klassen and keyboardist Dan Besser.

“Ben took a pretty bad blow to the head, he has a concussion and head trauma, and had chest impact, as well as cuts and bruises – he had trouble breathing for a while,” Vander Kam said. “Dan has a broken collarbone, broken ribs and a little bit of facial fracturing.”

Vander Kam described his own injuries as “soft-tissue damage and some puncture wounds.”

Luckiest was roadie Graham Kohlen, who fell on a pile of blankets and came out of the wreck relatively unscathed.

Vander Kam said he has been stunned by the volume of well wishes the band has received since news of the crash hit social media on Monday.

“I really have no words for it. I heard there was even an arena full of 7,000 people in Peru praying for us, just because of somebody we know (online),” he said.

And while all energies of the musicians are focused on recovery now, he said he is determined the accident will not become the focal point of the Tommy Alto band.

“We will come back, stronger than ever,”  Vander Kam vowed.


“We’ll be back touring, doing what we love to do. We’re not going to let this stop us, only slow us down.”



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