Thirteen pedestrians have been struck by cars in Prince Rupert in the past 14 months — not all survived.
Every time Chelsea Stamp-Vincent hears about another vehicle collision involving a pedestrian, she said it’s hard because she is a survivor.
“I feel for the person who got hit. Nobody wants to get hit by a car. I know what they’re about to face. What they’re about to have to go through and if they don’t have the support that I was so lucky enough to have, I don’t know how they will get through it,” she said.
On April 18, 2011, just after 2 a.m., Stamp-Vincent was looking for a cab in Vancouver to take her and a friend home. When she saw one, she stepped out into the crosswalk during a red light to call the driver over. In a split second, she dropped her cell phone and ran out to grab it — but the light had turned green.
“As I ran out, a car didn’t realize that I had been stepping out, and she hit me hard enough that I went from one crosswalk to the other crosswalk in an intersection,” Stamp-Vincent said.
She remembers being hit, her friend running to her side, feeling the searing pain in her head, and asking her friend over and over, “Are my legs moving?”
“No” her friend replied.
The impact had broken her neck in three places and had almost completely severed her spinal cord. Despite her protests, the doctors and nurses shaved off her hair and she had more than 200 stitches in her head and down her neck.
“I understand we spend a lot of times on our phone while distracted, I don’t want to see anybody else have to go through what I had to go through,” Stamp-Vincent said from inside her office in Prince Rupert, January 2018.
A singer without a voice
Stamp-Vincent grew up in Prince Rupert. After high school, she went to Douglas College for her theatre degree. She sang her whole life.
When she woke the next day at Vancouver General Hospital both her parents, who are divorced, were in the room.
“I remember thinking, ‘if you’re both in the same room, and you’re both getting along, this cannot be good’,” she said.
There was a tube going from her throat into her stomach, a needle in her neck, and she could feel bandages all over her swollen head. She tried to speak to her mother but couldn’t.
In the ER, a surgeon had to go through the back and front of her neck to fuse her vertebrae together using a rod and two plates. Her vocal chords were damaged.
At 22 years old, lying in a hospital bed, doctors told her she’d be lucky to speak again, let alone sing.
122 days in the hospital
At the hospital, she was told if she couldn’t feel her legs within five days she had to accept that she never would.
But a week later, the slightest bit of movement returned to her left leg.
“I remember seeing my toe move. That feeling came right back. It was very weird but it would go away because you’re exhausting these neuropathways and they quit really easily,” Stamp-Vincent said.
In the beginning of May she was moved to GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. She said due to a shortage in staff, she was seen by eight physiotherapists in 42 days, and wasn’t seeing much progress.
Determined to walk on her own again, Stamp-Vincent found her own set of exercise routines, pulling herself up between her bed rails and the wheelchair, taking steps back and forth down her bed railing and eventually going downstairs.
“I got discharged two weeks early and I walked out of there,” she said.
Stamp-Vincent finished her theatre degree, graduating with her classmates who supported her throughout her recovery.
Six months after the crash, she entered a karaoke contest. She had been practicing in the halls of GF Strong, and slowly regained her voice, although she said it’s different from before. Her friends encouraged her to compete and practice paid off. She ended up placing within the top 10. Last summer, she won a karaoke competition at Chances Casino in Prince Rupert, and won tickets to Vegas.
The right side took longer to return and Stamp-Vincent used a cane and a foot brace until two years ago.
“I live with reminders every single day of my life. I can’t run after my nieces and nephews,” she said.
“If I could go back in time and had just said, ‘It’s just a cell phone, you don’t need it,’ my life would be completely different and I wouldn’t have a daily reminder of the things that I can’t do anymore.”
As a truck driver, 50-year-old Aaron McIntyre has been on roads all over the country, and he’s disturbed by what he sees daily in Prince Rupert.
“I don’t know why it’s like that here because I haven’t seen it quite that bad anywhere else,” McIntyre said.
On Dec. 17, 2017, he posted a video he took on Facebook. From the front window of his truck, you can see a woman crossing the street in Prince Rupert at a crosswalk. She doesn’t look both ways, and a car coming from the opposite side of the road narrowly misses her without slowing down.
“The video doesn’t even show how close it really was, it was only a couple feet that the car passed right in front of her,” he said.
The video has 10,000 views and 24 lengthy comments. He said he posted the video to create awareness.
“I want to make people aware that those white lines that are on the road are not a forcefield,” he said. “They can get hurt really bad, and I drive a big truck. It’s 100,000 lbs — if you get hit by one, there’s no hope in making it through.”
The solution is more awareness, he said. Pedestrians think they have the right-of-way but the conditions in Prince Rupert make it difficult to see.
“When it starts to get dark at night, it gets gloomy when it’s rainy and windy. There’s glare off the lights on the headlights, there’s all kinds of factors that tie into it and make it that more dangerous,” he said.
His message is to pedestrians — don’t assume people see you, and look both ways before you cross.
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, an advocate for building a safer design of city streets is presenting to Prince Rupert City council.
Chris Lightfoot doesn’t think the answer is in social media campaigns or education, it’s changing our built environment to improve safety for all modes of transportation.
“I’ve been interested in mobility for many years as a hobbyist in Vancouver and coming to Prince Rupert I felt there was a discussion with the city on how to improve downtown, and along the waterfront and Seal Cove,” Lightfoot said.
He’s a founding member of Complete Streets for Prince Rupert, a group advocating for safer and more accessible streets in the city.
“In short, anything that will reduce the speed of vehicles, increase visibility for drivers and pedestrians and separate modes of travel by changing how our built environment is laid out are the most effective ways of making streets safer for drivers and pedestrians,” he said.
Over the past few months, he’s asked people to share which locations are the most treacherous and need to see some kind of implementation to improve safety.
Three of the locations are Second Avenue West and Third Street, Third Avenue West and Third Street, and another is First Avenue and McBride Street.
What Complete Streets is proposing to city council is to install a safety feature called a curb extension in one of the three areas suggested.
However, Second Avenue West, where most of the collisions have occurred, is a provincial road, and the city has little control over how its managed.
But the city is still digging into the issue with the province. Since the Northern View reported 11 pedestrians were hit by vehicles in 2017, seven in crosswalks, the city has been meeting with the Ministry of Transportation to find solutions.
How the province and city move forward in 2018 — or how pedestrians take their own precautions — may prevent permanent damage or even save lives.