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.