MONTREAL—All it took was a quick glance at the victims’ car, pushed to the side of the 40 Highway near Vaudreuil-Dorion; the impact was violent, and deadly.

Two students from the University of Ottawa were in the car as they drove away from their home of Anjou. The couple, Ted Shen, 23, and Karina Joly, 20, were civil law students in the university’s small, tight-knit faculty.

On Thursday night, Shen lost control of his car and collided with an Urgences Sante vehicle near the Montee Cadieux overpass.

“Karina had just been elected to the faculty council and they had their first meeting last Tuesday,” said Sebastien Grammond, the dean of civil law at the University of Ottawa. “I remember her face vividly.”

Just before midnight, as the car drove into a construction zone on the 40 Highway, traffic was routed onto one side of the highway. Separated by cones from on-coming cars, Shen lost control—police still have no clue as to why—veered into on-coming traffic and smashed into the emergency vehicle.

The force of the collision tore the car in two. The impact was so severe that the couple was trapped in their car. Both were in cardiac arrest when emergency crews arrived.

“He doesn't recall what happened, it happened so fast,” said David Sasson, a spokesman for Urgences Sante, about the paramedic supervisor sitting in the vehicle.

“As a paramedic it’s a natural instinct, whether you're injured or not, your adrenaline is going so much that you just go do what you're trained to do and you attend to the injured.”

The Urgences Sante supervisor who was in the car that was hit said he tried to perform CPR on the occupants of the other car, but to no avail.

Firefighters used hydraulic jaws to rip the car apart, but their efforts were too late.

Police are now trying to decide why the car went into oncoming traffic and will examine the mechanical condition of the vehicle, as well as the possibility the driver was distracted. Alcohol has been ruled out in the crash, speeding has not.

“The lanes are much narrower, so you cannot go at the speed that is normally allowed in those zones,” said Surete du Quebec spokesman Gregory Gomez del Prado.

Last year, a dozen Quebecers died in construction zone crashes.

A ceremony will be held later next week at UofO to remember the two students.