Why Chloe Wiwchar’s death matters

Last Sunday evening  16-year-old Chloe Wiwchar was going home after spending some time with her friends. The Grade 11 Victoria High School student had to cross Kingsway, a busy and wide arterial road in front of the Alberta Aviation Museum.

The crosswalk had been recently upgraded, with bright, high-intensity flashing solar-powered lights. They are hard to miss.

But she never made it across. A pickup truck, reportedly driven by an Edmonton corporate lawyer, ran through the crossing, killing Chloe. To make matters worse, the driver sped away, but was followed by an alert off-duty police officer and later arrested. He has been charged with a number of offences including drunk driving.

The few stories that appeared in the media made more mention of the driver than about Chloe herself. There were a few quotes from her distraught father, and a couple of television news clips of crying friends. But the big news seemed to be that the law firm Denton’s, which employed the lawyer, had suspended him “pending an investigation.” Another story reported that the accused had been released on $50,000 bail.

But for me, this is more than another drunk driving story, (ok to be fair, alledged drunk driving.)

I spend most of my time at the Alberta Aviation Museum. Chloe died a few steps from the place I have taken refuge for the past four years. Like Chloe’s family this week, my life was also thrown into chaos on January 27, 2014, when our 27-year-old son David Finkelman was killed. He was crushed to death while trying to cross another busy street, Whyte Avenue, at an intersection on a green light.

David’s killer was not drunk, she was distracted. She did not face criminal charges for killing our son. She received a “slap-on-the-wrist.” A $2,000 fine and a two-month driving suspension.

I had a debate with someone on Twitter this week when I drew comparisons to this recent crash and my son’s death. “But your son was not killed by a drunk driver,” they said. “That has nothing to do with distracted driving. It’s completely different.”

Wrong. It’s because we allow our car culture to dominate our lives that Chloe and David are dead. It is why we only give pedestrians crossing a fast-moving six-lane arterial road the protection of some flashing lights. (We don’t want to inconvenience motorists too much.)

Edmonton city council is now considering whether to lower all residential speeds to 30 k/hr. Many people support it, but there is strong opposition. Coun. Tony Caterina recently expressed disgust for the idea.

“I have a sidewalk down my street. I feel safe. Cars can go as fast as they want.”

That is exactly what the car culture has done. It gives people the idea that their driving is a protected right. They must, at all costs, be given free rein and that all others who use the streets must step out of the way. Driving drunk, driving distracted or agressive behaviour is all just part of the daily routine.

Motorists need to realize they are driving a ton of steel that can kill or maim with only a moment’s notice. Even a second of distraction or impairment can cause havoc. Their actions can have the most dire consequences. Just ask Chloe’s family.

So how do we ensure the thousands of drivers on our roads every day are excercizing that care and attention?

We start by remembering every life lost, every family member plunged into never-ending grief, every story of lives never fully lived. We need to remember Chloe Wiwchar and David Finkelman and hundreds of others every time we get into our cars and turn on the ignition.

If we don’t, one day it will be your son, daughter or loved one whose life will be suddenly stolen. To be quickly forgotten as the news cycle moves on.

That is why I placed flowers at the crosswalk where Chloe Wiwchar died on Sunday. Maybe someone will see the flowers and remember.