Kwantlen student and band in serious car crash

Tommy Alto suffer injuries from a car crash on Aug. 26.

By Bianca Pencz
[culture editor]

Kwantlen student Tom Vander Kam and his Tommy Alto bandmates are still recovering from a serious car accident in late summer.

The crash occurred on the morning of Aug. 26 on a road near Hope, following the last night of Tommy Alto’s recent tour. Still not entirely sure how it happened, Vander Kam says that after a long night of driving, their tour van veered off the road, hit a boulder and went into a barrel roll.

“The fact that we’re all alive came down to sheer physics,” says Tom Vander Kam, frontman of Surrey band Tommy Alto. He and his bandmates survived a car crash three weeks ago, from which they are still recovering.

“If the impact had happened differently, or the density of the terrain had been different, we could very well not be here right now.”

Tommy Alto performing at Vern’s in Calgary. (Photo courtesy Doug Springer)

Every member of the group suffered injuries, ranging from puncture wounds and concussions to soft tissue damage and cracked ribs. However, drummer Chartwell Kerr and bassist Paul Engels fared the worst.

“Both of Chartwell’s legs were shattered in the accident,” says Vander Kam. “Paul had chest trauma [which caused] a collapsed lung and cracked rib, as well as severe head trauma.”

Engels is still in a medically induced coma at Royal Columbian Hospital, but Vander Kam says he’s making progress. Kerr was recently discharged from the hospital in a wheelchair.

Although the accident was devastating to all involved, Vander Kam says he and his bandmates are making it through the aftermath by staying as positive as they can and visualizing the future.

“At this point, we’ve basically got two options,” the frontman says. “Sulk and feel terrible about things we have no control over, compromising our immune systems and dragging out the healing process — the very last thing we want to do — or focus on recovering, and never stop thinking about the glorious moments that will be our first rehearsal, our first show, our first tour back together as a band.”

“Music is our life together, and life has to go on. This is only a temporary setback. It’s a big blow, but we’ll overcome it.”

According to Vander Kam, Tommy Alto has already been through a lot before this accident, just by working through the regular trials and tribulations of trying to make it in a band.

“The whole music industry is incredibly brutal. It’s cutthroat, it’s competitive,” says Vander Kam.

“The fact that we’ve been able to musically express ourselves, bundle our songs together in a physical and live format, and make our craft self-sustainable to the extent of such rapid growth is a bigger challenge than lots of people could even fathom. We’re incredibly proud of our accomplishments thus far.”

Vander Kam says that each show on the recent tour could not have gone any better.

“Every tour hits a few snags here and there; it’s to be expected. But especially given that we planned, routed, organized, booked [and] promoted the entire tour independently with zero budget, the excursion was a miraculous success,” he says.

“The response from the crowds greatly surpassed what we’d hoped for, especially as a relatively unheard-of out-of-town band. Shout out to the 150 or so kickass people at Vern’s in Calgary for moshing throughout our entire 45-minute set!”

Although the lead singer attended KPU for physics classes all of last year, he put university on the back-burner this year in order to throw himself into music, and plans on finishing his degree at a later time.

Guitarist Ben Klassen is “in the same boat,” says Vander Kam. He attended KPU for general studies classes, with the goal of becoming an architect, but had also decided to focus on the band for now.

“This whole experience has made us appreciate our existence more,” says Vander Kam. “No one should ever take a single moment for granted. The most ridiculous and unexpected bullshit can completely alter everything.”

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