JOHN HARDING and CANDACE WU
Police said Monday they believe they have identified the vehicle and driver from a hit-and-run incident that claimed the life of an 80-year-old French Creek woman on Wednesday.
Oceanside RCMP Cpl. Jesse Foreman had just finished speaking with the major crimes unit when reached by The NEWS on Monday afternoon.
“They believe they have found the vehicle and person responsible,” said Foreman. He said the driver identified by major crimes “has been extremely co-operative” and “there is pretty reasonable doubt the (driver) even knew it happened.”
Foreman said forensic evidence gathered from the vehicle — a delivery vehicle of some sort — has been sent to the lab. Foreman said police are not likely to make any decisions on recommending charges against the driver, or not, until that evidence is processed, which could take as long as a month. Foreman also said he did not want to identify the specific vehicle for fear of “vigilanteism” and he also said there was no evidence of speed, reckless driving or alcohol being a factor in this case.
According to a news release issued by Oceanside RCMP Thursday morning, at approximately 3 p.m. Wednesday a woman was found lying on the side of the road on Roberton Boulevard, near Lakes Boulevard in French Creek (Morningstar area).
Neighbours identified the victim as Gwen Chisholm.
Police said she was discovered a short distance from her home by a passerby.
Paramedics were called and she was transported by B.C. Ambulance to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. She died at approximately 11 p.m. as a result of the serious head trauma sustained.
“Investigators are confident that the female’s injuries were consistent with being struck by a passing vehicle,” states the news release.
Friends and neighbours of Chisholm say they’re both devastated and frustrated — especially because the victim was intimately involved in a movement calling for safer streets just months before her death.
Chisholm was the third person to a sign a petition ultimately garnering 169 signatures in November.
The petition read: “There is a most urgent need to improve safety for walkers and bikers in our community with the installation of a proper sidewalk, speed bumps on the road or very visible road markings indicating a slow speed and to watch for pedestrians and bikers.”
It was sent to MLA Michelle Stilwell, Regional District of Nanaimo director Joe Stanhope and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) operations manager Johnathan Tillie along with a letter obtained by The NEWS explaining “the reason for this petition is your lack of concern in providing adequate measures to control the speed of vehicle traffic on the ’S’ curve of Roberton Boulevard… we will most definitely have a serious injury or worse, a fatality.”
Barb Svarich, a resident in the area and president of the Saint Andrews Lane Strata, said the message fell on deaf ears.
Svarich said she did not get a response from either Stilwell or Stanhope. MOTI did respond, however, she said it was only to express their inability to enhance safety measures.
“Because it’s considered a highway you can’t have speed bumps, crosswalks, flashing lights or this is what I’ve been told by (MOTI) that this is considered a highway,” she said. “How can this be considered a highway when we’re a residential area?”
Svarich said Roberton Boulevard is a winding road with blind spots and no sidewalk, noting there have been a handful of incidents in the past few years related to road safety and speeding vehicles.
However, Oceanside RCMP Cpl. Jesse Foreman said speeding has not been identified by police as an issue on Roberton Boulevard.
“Like many areas in Oceanside, Roberton has generated several complaints to the RDN and police regarding speeding,” said Foreman. “As a standing policy with the Oceanside RCMP, locations that generate complaints are then worked or surveyed by municipal traffic services. Our traffic section has spent a lot of time on Roberton and has never identified a speeding problem. In the particular area where the lady very unfortunately was struck and killed, it is a narrow windy road.”
Foreman said police do not classify roads as dangerous, instead they look to ICBC for direction.
“Previous crashes or issues would have ICBC alert us that it is a ‘high crash location,’” he said. “Roberton has never been classed as such.”
“A beloved woman has died because of this,” Karen Michalek told The NEWS. “Gwen was so loved in this community… She was such a wonderful neighbour and friend. So warm and friendly. First and foremost, she was a lady. She never had a bad word to say about anyone.”
RDN director Joe Stanhope called the incident tragic.
“First of all, this is really sad. I really sympathize with the family and friends of the woman who lost her life,” said Stanhope. “I mean, she was 80 years old. I’m in that area and I understand how valuable life is when you are that age. It’s a tragic, tragic accident.”
He promised to do everything in his power to help enhance pedestrian safety in the area, but first he wants to see what the RCMP investigation uncovers.
Stanhope said he had a meeting with MOTI last summer, where pedestrian safety in the highly urbanized electoral area of French Creek was discussed generally.
Stanhope said he would like to set up another meeting with Stilwell and MOTI to address this specific issue, noting the RDN is “limited” in what it can do alone.
“This is a big issue and I’m not finished with it,” he said. “I’ll be wrestling it to the ground, I’ll tell you that.”
Chisholm’s death has reignited the grief struck community in the fight for pedestrian safety.
“We are going to fight for changes that will protect all people, all cyclists and even motorists,” said strata president Svarich, noting she will be sending out letters to politicians this week demanding action.
“I’d like to see a commitment that a sidewalk will be installed. We don’t want to forget. We want to do something and we want to do it for Gwen.”