Change of plans

On Saturday evening, Wanda and I and our roommate went to a friend’s birthday party near Eglinton Avenue and Brentcliffe Road.  Since the evening was semi-pot-luck, we made our famous Easy Cheesy Broccoli and Wanda, with her customary attention to detail, packed it carefully for the trip from High Park to East York.  Two friends, Silmar and Daniel, picked us up in their car and we made our way toward the party.  They were bringing two varieties of cake from a well-known bakery in Brampton, and cake is never a hard sell for someone with a sweet tooth as strong as mine.

We had to park across the street from the actual apartment building — in the Winners / Robert Lowrey’s Piano Experts lot — because the apartment building’s management had recently converted the last of their visitor parking spaces into tenant parking.  We parked beside the birthday girl’s car and made a beeline for the curb.   I tucked the covered broccoli dish under my arm, intending to jaywalk through Eglinton Avenue’s moderate traffic to our destination.  “Cross at the lights,” Wanda said, reasoning that it would be hard to sprint between traffic and keep the cakes and other dishes intact.  Of course the cakes must be preserved, even if it means their porter will get a little more wet in tonight’s light drizzle.  All four of us all crossed at the lights like dutiful law-abiding citizens.

Approaching the apartment lobby, we heard the crunch and tinkling glass of a car accident on the street.  Having worked near Leslie and Highway 7, where fender-benders are practically a daily occurrence, I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to check it out.  Trees and a low brick wall partially obstructed the view, at any rate.  Curiosity got the better of Daniel, the cake-bearer, and he headed toward the street for a look.  I followed him, reasoning that it would pass the time until our host answered the buzzer.

I saw a woman sprawled in the middle of the street — clearly one party to the thud and tinkling I had just heard.  I abandoned the broccoli dish on the low brick wall and jogged out into traffic, fumbling for my phone and dialing 911.  Two cars (one heading westbound, and the other heading eastbound) had already stopped and put on their headlights and flashers to keep other cars from striking her. Good thinking.

“What is your cell phone number?” asked the 911 operator.  I gave it to her.  “Do you need fire, ambulance or police?”

“I need an ambulance at Eglinton and Brentcliffe, a pedestrian has been struck by traffic.”  I looked at prone body on the wet pavement, hoping to see some sign of life.  Two other gents were bent over her, one at her head and one at her feet.  I saw them both bend down and I was on the verge of hollering “Don’t move her!” as they abandoned the effort.

“Male or female?”

“A woman, middle-aged”

“Middle-aged?  What does that mean, middle-aged?”

“Thirty to thirty-five, I guess”.  Do they need census information before they dispatch EMS?  She was an attractive woman in her mid-thirties, stylishly dressed; I didn’t recognise her.  The woman’s eyes were wide open, staring straight ahead into the murky night sky,
but I didn’t see any chest movement indicating breathing.  I thought she was gone.

“Is she conscious?”

“I don’t know, standby.”  I waved a hand over the woman’s face and shouted to be heard over the traffic.  “Miss, are you all right?  Can you hear me?”  No response.

“I think she’s unconscious…”

“You think?  You don’t know?”

“Her eyes are open but she is not responding to visual or audible stimuli,” I said, “She is probably in shock.”  Just then I saw her chest rise and fall, and her mouth twitched.  I paused for a millisecond and there it was again.  “She is breathing.”  Some of the onlookers started covering her in blankets and jackets to ward off the cold night air.

“Does she have any injuries?”

There was a small trickle of blood from the woman’s mouth.  No other external bleeding that I could see.  Her jeans were torn at the right hip and the skin had been punctured / lacerated, but it was not bleeding.  I informed the operator of the visible trauma.

“Okay, police, fire and ambulance are on the way now.  Did you see the accident?”

“No, I did not.”  I looked at the growing crowd — now up to seven or eight people — surrounding the stricken woman.  “Who was first on the scene?”  I asked.  A young man in sweats put his hand up, and he described the accident.  She was jaywalking across the street, and a car heading westbound on Eglinton Avenue hit her as she was crossing.  The car that hit her continued on.

I relayed the description to the operator.

“How far was she thrown?”

“Fifteen to twenty feet at least,” I said, looking at a now completely detached driver-side mirror and estimating the distance to the where the woman now lay.  “I’m not sure if the car is still at the scene,” I said to the operator, “it sounds like he may have left.”  The
two cars bracketing the woman both had intact driver- and passenger-side mirrors.

“No no, I’m still here” said an older gentleman in his late forties or early fifties.  He was tall, about six-foot-four, and his breath came in short, sharp bursts.  He looked quite pale and distraught; I thought he was going to faint or toss his cookies all over the scene (and the young woman).  Thank God he had enough decency and good sense to stay on-scene.  “Where is your car?” I asked.  He pointed to the intersection of Brentcliffe and Eglinton, about fifty yards away.  “It’s around the corner”.

I pointed to a young twentysomething South Asian man, one of the first witnesses.  “Go get his plate number and come right back here once you have it.”  He nodded and ran towards the damaged vehicle.  I heard distant sirens approaching us from the west, along Eglinton Avenue.  “Fire department is a few minutes away,” I told the operator.

“My God, I know her!”  I looked up.  My roommate Rogner was standing beside me.  “It’s Celia.”  I looked down again, but still didn’t recognise her.  I had met Celia once before at Rogner’s birthday party several months earlier, but the catatonic woman on the pavement
hardly resembled the lively, vivacious Celia.  She was not, fortunately, the birthday girl — but she was definitely supposed to be one of the attendees.

The South Asian gent returned with the license plate number written down.  The car was badly damaged with a smashed windshield.  I relayed the license plate information to the 911 operator in NATO phonetics to avert any misunderstanding.  “I don’t know if you need any other information,” I told the operator, “first responders are on the scene and I think we’ve done all we can.”

“Thanks for staying on the line so long,” she said.  I hung up.

Rogner collected Celia’s personal effects as Toronto Fire Services moved in to treat her.  “Get on the curb” growled a elderly, grizzled fireman, shooing all of us onlookers away.  “This is our friend,” I said “her BlackBerry is somewhere out here and we need to notify the
family”.  “Get on the curb!” he barked again.  I thanked the South Asian guy for getting the plate number and shook his hand.

“It’s my duty,” he said evenly.  I’m glad somebody still thinks so in this day and age.

A white-haired fiftyish policeman came over and questioned all of us, but as we didn’t see the accident occur, we weren’t much benefit to the investigation.  All we could tell him is her name, address, and where her car was (parked alongside ours in the Winners lot).  We asked for Rogner to accompany Celia to the hospital.  Grumpy TFS fireman waved us off as a nuisance; he just blew any chance Toronto Fire ever had of getting money or sympathy from me for any cause they might care to name.  I would rather see my house burn to the ground — with me inside it — than be rescued by this ancient lout from TFS.

The white-haired policeman was much more reasonable and consented to Rogner riding along with Celia to the hospital.  He and Rogner walked out to the newly-arrived ambulance as the EMS technicians embarked their patient.   Another officer started asking Rogner a lot of pointed questions about alcohol consumption, because the scene smelled of some kind of booze.  Interestingly I didn’t recall smelling any booze from the driver, and we could not see Celia being the type of person to a) drive someplace drunk or b) drive someplace drunk and then get clobbered crossing the road.

Eventually the white-haired police officer returned and gave us the lowdown on Celia’s extensive injuries.  He told us what trauma center she was headed for, and gently reminded us that there was no point in standing around on the sidewalk getting wet.  So we went inside and made what we could of the birthday celebration and, accident aside, excellent food and drink.  Rogner called a couple of times from the ER with status updates.  Celia had a lot of broken bones and some serious internal injuries, but the medical professionals didn’t seem too pessimistic.

The seriousness of the situation did not really sink in until several hours after the accident when Rogner returned.  Peering out the window after dinner, it was apparent that Toronto Police lingered long after EMS and TFS had departed.  A big slab-sided forensics truck had joined the cruisers, and witnesses’ cars had not budged an inch.  In fact Eglinton Avenue East between Leslie and Brentcliffe was closed in both directions.  The driver had not been drinking (his breathalyzer test was A-OK), but did reek of wine because Celia had been carrying a bottle of wine when she was struck.  Presumably this wine made it inside the perforated windshield and ended up all over the driver.  Bits of the bottle were apparently all over the road, too.

accident_investigation Silmar and I went outside to check Celia’s car for her BlackBerry, in the hope that we could get the names of her cousins in town to notify them.  Calling her phone number, the phone rang, but there was no ringing sound from the street.  We started to cross Eglinton to the south side but were hailed by a police officer and told to stay away.  He had one of those surveyor tripods and we were blocking his line of sight to another officer holding up a pole with a flashing red light.  Interesting, I haven’t seen police use that at a traffic scene before.   Crossing the street to the parking lot on the south side, one of the officers in a cruiser asked us what we were up to.  “Looking for our friend’s BlackBerry, we replied”.  He nodded and went back to his work.  We strolled up to her car, opened the driver-side door, and called the BlackBerry again.  It rang, and we located it.

I saw a couple of policemen scanning the north side of Eglinton with their flashlights, and I let them know we had found Celia’s Blackberry.

“You’re friends of the young woman that was hit?” said an officer.

“Celia?  Yes,” replied Silmar.

“She’s in bad shape.  It’s in God’s hands now.”

Silmar and I shared an uncomfortable look.  This was not welcome news.   “Why are you guys giving this scene the white-glove treatment… mobile crime scene lab, surveyor instruments, et cetera?”

“It’s standard procedure in fata– ah, life-threatening accidents,” replied the officer.

So there you have it.  I don’t know if Celia made it.  But if you can spare a couple of minutes, a prayer or two probably wouldn’t hurt.

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5 Responses
  1. Flea says:

    And a prayer for you and Wanda.

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    Thanks, Flea, I appreciate it.

  3. Damian says:

    Celia couldn’t have asked for anyone better to attend to her in such a situation. Regardless of what happens from here, you did all you could – you’re a good man, Mr. Taylor.

  4. Chris Taylor says:

    Thanks. I didn’t really do anything spectacular aside from calling 911, along with two or three other folks. It’s just human nature, but one always walks away from these things thinking that I could have done something more, or next time I’ll do better. I think it was well-handled well by bystanders and professionals. There was no wailing or hysteria and it was all relatively chaos-free.
    The only negative thing is that my impression of TFS is in the sewer. Although they were the first “professionals” on the scene, they were about the most unpleasant and unprofessional folks you could ever run across. Like a steelworkers union during a late 70s / early 80s strike level of unpleasantness. Not to mention they were pretty casual about moving evidence around at the scene. When the police accident reconstruction guys showed up they were actually logging the location of evidence after TFS had kicked everything away, out of the path of the ambulance and gurney. It wasn’t even remotely close to where it had been immediately post-accident.
    The general belligerence combined with previous experience (I have known a couple of ladies who were actually stalked and harassed by firefighters who first came upon the scene to assist them) dampens my enthusiasm for TFS.

  5. Critical but stable

    … is the word on Celia following the weekend’s accident. Despite all that has happened she is pretty fortunate to have survived. A 19-year-old man was killed in another pedestrian accident early Sunday morning near Highway 27 and Humber College