The Hamilton Spectator
Long road back for Whitney Horne after being struck by pickup truck
Hamilton woman disappointed charges laid have not made it to court
Her left eye droops, especially when she’s tired; she jokes it’s her “drunk eye.”
Her left hand hangs limp, from the muscle wasting away.
Visual clues reveal little of the random, split-second moment Whitney Horne’s life changed just over two years ago; of the layers of hurt, inflicted on body and mind, by humans operating machines weighing thousands of kilograms.
They also don’t show what’s inside, what makes her tick, although that “drunk eye” quip offers a hint.
Horne could lose herself, repeatedly revisiting that morning, reflecting on twists of fate.
“I have to try and stay positive,” she says. “I can’t just sit and dwell on it ... I do have my moments, though.”
It was Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, one month before her 35th birthday; a typical middle-of-the-week day. She woke, fed their bulldog, Odin, and got their six-year-old daughter, Katelyn, on the bus for school.
Her family had lived five years in Smithville, southeast of Hamilton, realizing their dream of a simple rural lifestyle that included a hobby farm with a vegetable garden and a few chickens.
Horne grew up in the heart of east Hamilton, one block from her high school, Delta. Her dad worked at Dofasco and her mom owned a cleaning business. She spent each summer at their cottage in eastern Ontario, one hour south of Ottawa, on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
That Wednesday morning, she drove 30 minutes to work for 9 a.m. at H. Williams Jewellery on Upper James Street.
For 13 years she had worked at the store’s downtown branch, on James Street North, just south of Cannon Street East. She had relocated to the Mountain location about one month earlier.
But on this morning, a worker at the downtown store needed to go home for personal reasons, Horne says. They were short-staffed and she offered to take the trip down the Mountain to help for the day.
This is why she arrived downtown, not at 9 a.m. as she had for many years, but closer to 11 a.m., and ended up standing at the corner of Cannon and James, waiting to cross, like countless times before.
After that, for her, everything is blank.
She can’t hear metal on metal from the crash, or recall pain, or see blood pooling beneath her as a Hamilton paramedic rushed to her side.
There is no memory of anything, not until long after she was in hospital.
Hamilton police say at that moment, a Hyundai SUV westbound on Cannon ran the red light, striking a GMC Sierra truck southbound on James in the intersection, and the truck spun and hit Horne.
“She got tail-whipped by the truck,” says Horne’s husband, Adam. “And that was the end of her previous life.”
She spent five months in hospital, most of that time in the ICU. She suffered a shattered pelvis and brain bleeds. Her spleen was removed.
When Horne made it home she slept in an adjustable bed on the main floor, with Katelyn at her side each night on a mattress.
Physical rehabilitation has been a challenge made more difficult by pandemic-related delays, she says, in addition to the financial burden. (She had to wait two years before her first visit to a Hamilton braininjury clinic in December 2022.)
She filed a civil lawsuit over the collision and has been told it could take five to seven years to conclude.
Horne’s other focus, she says, is justice. She is disappointed that the charges police laid against three people connected to the incident have not been prosecuted by the Crown’s office.
The charges in the collision include careless driving causing bodily harm against a 56-year-old Hamilton man who was driving the SUV; the charge falls under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and is not a criminal offence.
In addition, a 34-year-old Niagara Falls woman driving the truck was charged with making a false statement and the owner of the truck, a
47-year-old Hamilton man, was charged with permitting the operation of a vehicle on a highway with no insurance.
Hamilton police have not released their names.
Horne says police officers continue to advocate on her behalf to get the charges prosecuted.
Staff Sgt. Scott Galbraith, with the Hamilton police traffic safety division, told The Spectator the future of the case is up to the Crown’s office, but added: “We are sensitive to the victim’s rights and needs, and we are working within our means to assist in that.”
Delays in part influenced by the pandemic have slowed or stopped cases making it to trial in Hamilton, including a drug-trafficking case in November.
Maher Abdurahman, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, told The Spectator in an email that the Crown’s office “withdrew the careless driving causing bodily harm charge” but did not clarify whether time delays is the reason, and did not address the status of the charges laid against the two additional people.
He said that “in general (the Crown) is obligated to withdraw or stay the charges if there is no reasonable prospect of conviction, or it is not in the public interest to proceed.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that provincial court cases must go to trial within 18 months after charges are laid, and Superior Court cases within 30 months.
Following an investigation by the Hamilton police collision reconstruction unit (CRU), police laid the charges March 25, 2021. The careless driving causing bodily harm charge was withdrawn by the Crown on Nov. 30, 2022.
The CRU concluded that excessive speeds did not cause the collision
that led to Horne’s injuries, according to Galbraith. He said the driver (of the SUV) “disobeyed traffic direction (a red light) and drove into the path of another driver.”
He added that he doesn’t believe the driver of the truck that spun from the impact of the SUV and hit Horne could have been able to “anticipate the event.”
Horne stresses that, in addition to her case, she is concerned for all who are victimized by collisions on Hamilton’s roads and fears other charges in pedestrian-injury cases getting tossed out of court.
“I’m not the only one; over the past two and a half years how many pedestrians have been hit?”
“It sets a bad precedent,” says Adam. “Everyone is owed a timely trial, but special circumstances have to be taken into account. This isn’t just someone who ran a stop sign and no one was hurt, this has changed the rest of my wife’s life.”
Horne says she needs the case heard in court for closure, and believes the same may hold true for those charged.
“I don’t know them, or what they are going through, I don’t know their life, but I’m sure they need closure, too.”
No longer able to cope living in a roomy home with stairs, but still yearning to afford living in the country on Adam’s sole remaining income, the family moved from Smithville to eastern Ontario last July.
Adam left his job at an oilseed refinery plant in Hamilton for a position at a CO2 recovery plant northeast of Brockville.
They bought a house surrounded by trees in a town called North Augusta, 30 minutes from where Horne’s dad lives year-round in the family cottage with a view of the water. Her mom died in 2015.
Bulldog Odin made the move, and they have a second dog and a cat.
A chicken or two might be in their future.
Bright light bothers Horne, but she does not suffer headaches. Driving typically does not make her anxious, but her heart races when she walks across a street, or parking lot, or when eight-year-old Katelyn gets off the school bus.
Damage to nerves down the entire left side of her body means her left hand is atrophied. She can’t button a shirt or do up a zipper. She’s on a waiting list for surgery that may help return some movement to the hand.
The ruptured nerves gave her a condition called Horner syndrome that causes the eye droop.
The effects of damage to her spine and pelvis will always be there.
She learned how to walk again. Katelyn says her mom walks like a penguin.
“She’s full of one-liners; she’s cutthroat,” says Horne. “She cracks jokes at my expense.”
Horne has been diagnosed with PTSD and has attended counselling. She leans on self-deprecating humour and sarcasm to cope. It often isn’t enough.
Some days, Adam finds Horne alone, crying.
She tells herself many others have it worse, and lack the support she has. She appreciates: she found the paramedic who treated her that Wednesday morning two years ago, and thanked her.
“At some point you have to move on, I can’t lie in bed all day feeling sorry for myself,” she says. “It just brings me down to think about it all. I can’t play with my daughter like a parent should be able to.”
Her strength and balance are off. “I fall a lot.”
And she picks herself up, determined to, as she puts it, “find the light” in this new life, on the long road to reconstruction.
No longer able to cope living in a roomy home with stairs, but still yearning to afford living in the country on Adam’s sole remaining income, the family moved from Smithville to eastern Ontario last July