Wayne Atkinson stands beside a memorial cross erected in memory of his common law wife Sandy Dempsey.

The moment that changes everything

Motor vehicle accidents; they happen in a heartbeat and change lives forever

It happens in a heartbeat. One moment there is everyday life; children making their way to school, a woman jogging, someone driving home from work, the neighbour walking the family dog. Then suddenly it is all over. Everything has changed, whole families’ lives are irrevocably altered and nothing is ever the same again. Motor vehicle accidents; they happen in a heartbeat and change lives forever.

Later, after the chalk lines on the road have faded, the services are long over and raw pain has subsided to a dull, endless ache, they appear. We see them on highways and side roads throughout our communities, our province, and our country. Crosses, homemade roadside memorials to remind us that sometime, on this spot, a life was lost and countless others lives were changed forever.

At the crosswalk where Neva Road intersects the Youbou Highway there is such a marker. It marks the spot where on August 4th, 2012; Sandy Dempsey was struck and killed by a motorcyclist. She was walking a friend’s dog home on a lovely, sunny summer evening.

“It was 7:45 p.m., still light on a beautiful day. Sandy had gone to take our friend’s dog home and I was making supper when I heard the crash,” said Wayne Atkinson, Sandy’s common-law husband. “I saw the dog first. It was pretty awful.”

Sandy was hit in a marked crosswalk, in broad daylight on a dry day. Wayne Atkinson wants people to remember what happened on that day. He wants the many vehicles that speed by the simple memorial, to take a moment to think and above all, to slow down.

“This is something to bring awareness. There are three crosswalks on this stretch of road. There are kids crossing, people walking their dogs, elk on the road,” said Atkinson. “Campers are in a hurry to find a campsite or get home after the weekend. People just need to slow down.”

Statistics Canada states that in 2009, over 2400 Canadians were killed in motor vehicle accidents, with many being speed related.

“The memorial is there in plain sight at the crosswalk and as long as it’s not causing a distraction for drivers, perhaps it will make people pause to take a little thought as to their speed,” said Cpl. Warren Potter of the Lake Cowichan RCMP.

Atkinson has been in touch with the Ministry of Transportation regarding making the crosswalks more visible to drivers.

“I got a hold of the highways department and they’re going to re-paint the crosswalks, that’s a given. We’re working on them possibly putting up flashing lights at some of them,” said Atkinson.

Besides the government erected crosswalk signs, there are also homemade markers on either side of the crosswalk. On one side, a small white cross that Atkinson put up in his wife’s memory along with a cross that his friend erected for his dog who was also killed. On the other side, Atkinson’s employer, Denis Pilon and his crew from Mountain Man Services have erected a large wooden cross.

“This is the sixth cross that I’ve built in the last five years. Six fatalities all due to vehicles travelling at excess speeds or not taking due care and attention,” said Pilon. “People have to realize that there are other people using the highways and byways.”

The lack of caution exhibited by some drivers is not just evident on highways where they are travelling at higher speeds. Within the town limits there are numerous crosswalks where there have been near misses and accidents, mainly due to drivers not paying attention.

“It’s true that our officers have observed vehicles disregarding pedestrians in marked crosswalks in town,” said Cpl. Potter. “We all need to be much more attentive and allow pedestrians to cross safely.”

On a recent walk with his dog along the Youbou Highway, Atkinson was shocked to discover bits of wreckage from the motorcycle that struck and killed his wife.

“It hit me pretty hard,” said Atkinson.

So next time you’re on the road and running a little late to pick up the  kids from school or get to work, take a moment and remember Sandy Dempsey. Denis Pilon put the issue in crystal clear perspective when he said, “Just slow down. It’s not worth the minute or two you save. A life is just not worth that.”

 

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