A major highway between the Lower Mainland and the Interior was closed for several hours Wednesday afternoon due to “an active and unfolding police incident.”
Merritt RCMP announced the closure in a news release around 3:30 pm, saying no public or commercial vehicles were being allowed on the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt, BC
“The public should anticipate delays and plan alternative routes for the next few hours while this incident unfolds,” police said in their statement.
In an update shortly before 7 pm, police said the highway had reopened. They did not explain the underlying reason for the closure, nor say whether any arrests had been made.
“The incident that caused police to require the highway closure has come to a conclusion and we thank all motorists for their patience,” said BC RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Chris Manseau in the release.
“The investigation into the need for the closure remains active and ongoing, and the public can anticipate seeing a marked increase in police vehicles in the area.”
While the Mounties provided few details about the nature of the incident, they did say that “a large number of policing resources from surrounding areas” had been sent to the area of Juliet Bridge, south of Merritt near the Coquihalla Summit.
In their evening update, police asked anyone who was in the Juliet Bridge area between noon and 2 pm Wednesday and has dash cam video to contact the investigators. Merritt RCMP can be reached at 250-378-4262.
Mounties said they would provide no further information Wednesday night, but were “committed to releasing a more fulsome update tomorrow.”
In a response to a question about what was happening on Twitter, DriveBC said police had closed Highway 5 “to conduct a search for armed suspects.”
The account run by the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure advised motorists to take Highways 3 and 5A as a detour between Hope and Merritt during the closure.
A brief video recorded by Kevin Cage and shared with CTV News Vancouver shows police vehicles traveling south on the Coquihalla Highway with their lights on. Cage told CTV News a procession of “10 SWAT trucks” went by, and that as of 4 pm he had been waiting more than two hours for access to the highway.
Later, an ambulance and an ambulance supervisor arrived and began traveling in the same direction, Cage said.
NO INFORMATION ON CONNECTIONS TO OTHER INCIDENTS
Highway 5 is the second major BC route to be shut down by police incidents in the last 24 hours.
On Tuesday, the westbound lanes of Highway 1 in Coquitlam were closed for hours as officers attempted to apprehend suspects in an armed robbery at a Port Coquitlam car dealership.
Police said the suspects exchanged gunfire with officers while fleeing.
Two of the four armed suspects were arrested, but two others remained at large as of Wednesday, according to the RCMP.
The Coquihalla closure also comes after a week of major police incidents in Merritt, including multiple reported shootings.
More than 100 shots were fired in several locations in the city and the surrounding area on Tuesday, Nov. 15. Gunshots rang out again on Friday, in an incident authorities suspect was connected to the earlier shootings.
Police later arrested three suspects in connection with a kidnapping that appeared to have been related to the Friday shooting.
CTV News asked Manseau whether the closure of the Coquihalla Highway on Wednesday was related to either the armed robbery in the Lower Mainland or the recent violence in Merritt.
Manseau said he did not have any information about possible connections to either incident.
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Abigail Turner