It’s been one year since the driver of a late model Mercedes SUV struck Leila Bui and flung her several metres from the crosswalk on Ash Road at Torquay Drive, changing her and her family’s life forever.
Now 12, Leila remains dependent in a non-responsive state described as “near coma” and needs constant care. She is fed through a tube that goes directly to her stomach. At times she will show signs of being uncomfortable, grinding her teeth, bobbing her head and making facial expressions though not much otherwise, said her mother Kairry Bui.
There have been several upgrades to the intersection but the family says it is still too dangerous. So does a local organization that’s been lobbying to make it safer – even before Leila was hit.
“I wouldn’t say the improvements are huge,” said Bui. “They cut down the [big Arbutus], installed blinking cross-walk lights, but I don’t see that as an issue, there’s already a blinking light.”
No one knows the intersection better than the Buis, who live on the south west corner of Ash Road and Torquay Drive.
“We still hear cars screeching to a stop at the intersection,” Bui said. “Even at the beginning of the school year you could see, and hear, the screeching of people stopping.”
Bui is surprised that despite the improvements and even with locals wearing visibility vests and holding signs to slow down, drivers still speed through the intersection.
“Every time I come up the [Ash Road] hill towards [the Torquay intersection] I keep looking at the crosswalk wondering why she couldn’t see Leila,” Kairry said. “When you come up the hill you’re level, you can see.”
It was a sunny morning in Gordon Head on Dec. 20, 2017, when Leila ran out of the family house with her school bag at around 8 a.m., just ahead of her older sister in anticipation of meeting a parent across the street. It was both sunny and shadowy, which police suggested could have led to the driver’s inability to see Leila. In October, driver Tenessa Nikirk, then a North Saanich resident, was charged with one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm in relation to the incident.
Leila suffered brain injuries in addition to multiple internal injuries and the impact has been devastating. The family is grateful for two GoFundMe campaigns that helped cover the growing costs of making the home, family van, and everyday life wheelchair accessible for Leila. Between the two campaigns, the family received nearly $40,000 plus significant support from local charity Help Fill A Dream for the van and the family ramp.
“We are so grateful, we really were not ready for something like this,” Bui said.
The family had only moved into the home a year earlier, having outgrown their previous home in the Beckwith neighbourhood, and spent their nest egg on renovations to make the house their ‘forever home’ when Leila was struck.
Life is different now for the family of six. The two youngest children attend Torquay Elementary while Leila, who was at Arbutus, now attends Victor School for special education, though just a few hours a week. She also receives nurse shifts for in-home care, while her parents have to fill in the gaps.
“At school, she listens to music and gets foot rubs, and things to stimulate her,” Bui said.
As for Ash Road, Bui’s answer is a roundabout.
“A roundabout is something that will force people to slow down,” Bui said. “There was already a blinking light, and a four-way isn’t enough, people can still blow through it. You have all these signals and signs, but they don’t force people to slow down.”
Though their street-side efforts were met with some controversy by police and angry drivers, a representative for Fix Ash Road Now, Rishi Sharma, said the public can expect more advocates to stand street-side with ‘slow down’ signs on Ash Road in the new year.
Nikirk has not reached out to the Bui family and has had at least one court hearing already. Her case is ongoing and is believed to be reconvening again in the new year.