Police at the door

Three years ago today our son, David, lay dying on Whyte Avenue.

Just after noon, on a bright, crisp January day, an 18-year-old woman drove her 2007 yellow Chevy Cobalt into our son while he was crossing on a green light at 101 St.

The driver was turning left onto the avenue. For some reason she did not see David in the intersection. But her passenger did. Police told us the young man yelled, “Watch the guy, watch the guy.” David saw the car. He tried to jump back out of the way. For some reason, instead of jamming on her brakes (she was not going that fast) or steering around our son, she drove into him, pinning him against a lamp post. She crushed David to death with her 1,300 kilogram car.

A bystander rushed to David’s aid, removing his backpack and laying him on the ground. He said David tried to speak, but couldn’t. Then he just went limp. Paramedics were on the scene almost instantly, but by the time David reached the University of Alberta Hospital, just minutes away, he was dead. The driver sat sobbing in her car.

About half an hour later, I was driving home from downtown, having recorded a radio story for the CBC afternoon show, Radioactive. The lead story on the news was about a pedestrian collision on Whyte Ave. It sounded serious.

Just after 3:00 pm I was upstairs when Jane called up to say there were two policemen at the door who wanted to talk to me. They asked if I was Steve Finkelman, then suggested we go into the living room. Despite being in the news business for 35 years, my mind issued no warning of what was to come.

The next four words were to destroy our world. “He didn’t make it.”

“There was a pedestrian collision this afternoon…,” one of them started. I froze as my mind raced ahead fitting the statement together with the news report I had heard a few hours ago. “David was involved……” The next four words were to destroy our world. “He didn’t make it.”

I heard Jane’s voice rise to a hysterical pitch. “What do you mean he didn’t make it? Didn’t make it across the street? Didn’t make it home? Didn’t make what?” The police officer delivered the answer with all the compassion he could muster. “No ma’am. He didn’t survive.”

Jane and I are not alone in suffering the grief, shock, anger, disbelief and profound sadness at the loss of our son. Last year dozens of families had police show up at their door. More got a call to rush to the hospital emergency ward. Some were too late, some had time to say a last good bye. Others were more lucky, but still had to endure months of watching their loved ones try to recover their health and their lives to varying degrees.

Each time someone gets behind the wheel of a car, truck or SUV, without paying their full attention to the job of driving, they are gambling with someone’s life. Usually it is not their own.

But it’s time we stopped treating these “deaths-by-car” as simple collateral damage, the price we pay for a bustling city with a roadway system that allows us to drive anywhere at our convenience. Each time someone gets behind the wheel of a car, truck or SUV, without paying their full attention to the job of driving, they are gambling with someone’s life. Usually it is not their own.

Many drivers have a habit of blaming everyone but themselves. “Speeding is not dangerous if you don’t go too fast. The real problem is people driving too slow. ”

“It’s those pedestrians who are always jumping into the roadway, talking on their cell-phones. Photo radar doesn’t work, it’s only a ‘cash cow.’ ”

What people don’t want to believe is that all competent research shows that speed, combined with distracted and aggressive driving, kills and maims. And we are the people whose lives have been shattered as a result.


We’d like to hear from you about your experiences. How has a roadway collision changed your family’s life?  Feel free to comment or get in touch through the contact  page. We promise your privacy. 


10 thoughts on “Police at the door”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story of your immense loss and your desire to advocate for safer streets so others will not suffer the same tragedy. My heart is with you on this especially difficult day, three years after David’s untimely and preventable death.

    My son was 28 when an underage drunk driver drove into a bike lane, striking two young men, killing Dustin instantly. The driver fled the scene but was caught an hour later. Many people blamed Dustin just because he was on a bike at night without a helmet. They glossed over the drunk 18 year old who hit two people legally riding in a designated bike lane, with lights. Riding a bike was a worse offense even than leaving one dead man and one injured teenager in the street like roadkill.

    I got the dreaded knock on the door at 5 a.m. and I’ve never been the same. Like you, I decided I had to do something to prevent the devastation from affecting other young people and their families.

    Thank you again, and my sincere condolences.

    1. We are so sorry, Kristi, to hear of your son, Dustin’s, death. No one should have to go through that kind of nightmare. We struggle with our loss every minute of every day as we are sure you do, too. Your advocacy work will make a difference, as we feel ours will as well. If the message reaches just one person and makes them a safer and more aware driver, then we are all doing something. I know exactly what you mean when you say you will never be the same. I have an essay running in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, on Wednesday, February 1st. It is about how losing David changed my life.

  2. As a cyclist in edmonton thank you! It takes a lot of courage and strength to share his story, know that its appreciated.

    1. Thanks, Phil, for your response. We hope that as more people speak out, word will spread that there is still much to be done to make our roads safer.

  3. I just finished reading Jane’s piece in today’s Globe & Mail. Your words are so eloquent and so very moving.
    Words have power, and Jane, you obviously have a keen sense of how to put them together, with nuance and great emotional weight. You may already be working on a book or thinking about it. The Globe piece tells me there is indeed a wonderful book in you. I hope maybe I’ll be reading it someday.

    Meanwhile, thank you so much.

    1. Thanks for reading the essay, Jim. I was a freelance writer until David died. After that, I never thought I’d write again. So it’s kind of cosmic that this piece should run almost three years to the day after our son was killed. Don’t think there’s a book in me, but who knows.

  4. Thank you for this. You’re right: Not a day goes by when our hearts are not aching. We held him in our arms and in our hearts when he was here on earth. Now he is holding us.

    This is our story about the loss of our son, Mathieu, and our struggle for justice. On October 18, 2011 our son, Mathieu, was riding his bicycle home from his art studio in Brooklyn when he was hit from behind, run over and crushed by a flat bed crane truck. His body and bicycle were dragged by the truck for over 40 metres, and he was left to die on the street. The truck driver did not stop as he drove the truck recklessly down the street on the wrong side of the road, and parked a few blocks beyond the crash.

    We were notified of Mathieu’s death by the Leduc RCMP on Oct. 19, 2011 and immediately made arrangements to go to New York. The official police report, finally sent to us on Jan. 20, 2012, stated that the driver was given two traffic summonses: Failing to Signal When Turning Right and Driving with Undue Care. Although these violations caused the collision and the death of our son, we were told they are just minor traffic violations, not criminal charges (because the driver did not intend to kill).

    Yes, it is true: on October 18, 2011 our lives were changed forever. Losing Mathieu was devastating. We are still learning how to live without him.

    In NYC I met many other victims of traffic violence and their families. I visited many ghost bike memorial sites. I heard many of the stories victims had to tell about their own experience of losing a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a parent, a grandparent or a friend. I cried and cried so much with them and for them, and for ourselves. I hoped and prayed that the toll of traffic injury and death would diminish. I still do. I realize that awareness can go a long way, that advocacy is essential.

    The following website includes a press file of many news articles about Mathieu and our case.
    And this website about his art :

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