Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Online hits to dead son's reputation leaves family angry and shaken

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 10, 2009


A mother's worst nightmare unfolded one terrible circumstance after another.

Mike Wolsynuk, a tow-truck operator known as Red for his fiery hair, was driving home after work.

After a gloomy day of rain, the road was wet. That was one unfortunate factor.

The rear tires of his 2005 Dodge Ram pickup truck were worn. That was another.

He was not wearing a seatbelt. That would be a fateful decision.

In one swift moment, at about 3:57 p.m. on Jan. 10, his truck veered out of control, hopping a concrete barrier on the left and crossing into southbound traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway. Another pickup struck Mr. Wolsynuk's truck on the passenger side.

His body was flung across the compartment by the force of a collision that compacted the width of the cab by half. He suffered horrible injuries to his neck and head. In the wreckage, police retrieved a BlackBerry.

Red Wolsynuk lasted six days in hospital before succumbing to massive injuries.

A celebration of his life was held at the Legion branch in Esquimalt.

Mourners were encouraged to wear baseball caps or cowboy hats, as well as belt buckles, the bigger the better. About 300 people packed the hall, telling stories about a hunter, fisherman, and dirt-bike rider, a shirt-off-his-back fellow who might celebrate the end of a hard day's labour by enjoying a nice cold can of beer.

"He was a guy to hang out with. He was your best buddy," said his father.

Police completed their investigation. The crash analysts had taken measurements, interviewed witnesses, checked telephone records. They found four contributing factors - the slick road, bald tires, no seatbelt, driver distraction.

The family was crushed by the loss of a son, brother, and grandson. Wishing to find the positive in so pointless a loss, the family agreed with the police to publicize the findings. If even one other young driver buckled up and put away their personal communication device, then big Red's death would have served a purpose as a cautionary tale.

"We definitely want the text-messaging message to get out there. That's really what it's all about," said his mother.

The Saanich police released a report titled, "Cause of death linked in part to driver distraction." The resulting news stories predictably focused on the BlackBerry.

"Wow. What an idiot," wrote one online commenter. "Dead is good for idiots on the road," wrote another. Others let rip: "Dang funny," "What a jerk," "Nature thinning the herd," "One more out of the gene pool," "This cretin died because of his arrogance and ignorance."

I'd like to introduce the posters, cowards all of them in their anonymity, to the mother of the man whose death they mock.

"Pretty mean stuff on the Internet," said Debby Bowers of Victoria. "And what's been said is not fair."

To read the online comments, you'd think Mr. Wolsynuk had his foot to the floor while hunched over playing hands of solitaire.

Apparently, none of the critics has ever spilled a coffee, dropped a smoke, chastised children in the back seat, argued with a passenger, fiddled with a radio dial, consulted a GPS device, answered a cellphone call, wrestled with a dog, or voted for premier a man who pleaded no-contest to a drunk-driving charge. To be a driver is to err. Happily, most of us survive our momentary distractions without a scratch.

"There is no death sentence for being human," Saanich police spokesman Sergeant John Price said. "He was being human like so many other humans. Too bad for him he had too many things align in the wrong way."

Had he been carrying a weighted load in the bed of his truck, had his tires been in better shape, had he not been distracted, perhaps Mr. Wolsynuk would have been able to recover. Even if not, he might have survived had he been wearing a seatbelt. There is no evidence of speeding.

It is a reminder, said Sgt. Price, that even professional drivers "are not immune." Mr. Wolsynuk drove for Totem Towing.

The other driver, a 41-year-old man, suffered whiplash-type injuries and was soon released from hospital.

On Monday night, an anguished father nursed his pain on a day of the calendar once celebrated.

"Today's his birthday," Larry Wolsynuk said. "Or would have been."

He remembered joining his son on a hunting and fishing trip last fall to Johnson Lake, stocked with rainbow trout. He reminisced about living in eastside Vancouver, of the end of his marriage to Mike's mother, of spending 29 years with Sears as a small-engine mechanic repairing lawn mowers and power saws. He once helped his son get a job at Sears, felt he might some day have pursued a position as a mechanic himself.

Mr. Wolsynuk, who lives in Delta, could barely contain his anger at the posthumous treatment of his son's reputation.

"Shit happens," he said, choked. "It was a bad night, January 10th. It was pissing down rain. He went through a huge mud puddle and the truck shot out from under him. Shit happens."

He cannot stand to hear another word about "friggin' text messaging."

On a late son's birthday, a bereaved father once again reached for a copy of an official document.

"I've got the damned coroner's report right here. Do you want me to read it to you?"

He paused after reading that Mike "struck his head with force on the frame of the truck."

A blood sample taken at hospital showed no alcohol or drugs. The final text message was sent to a friend at 15:35:13 and a final message was received at 15:55:45.

About 75 seconds later, the first of several 911 calls arrived at the communications centre.

The father demands to know how anyone knows whether his son answered that last message.

"Can you prove that he read it? You can't. That's why I'm pissed off."

We'll never know.

So, put away the cellphone and the BlackBerry. Select your radio station and push in your compact disc before pulling out.

Buckle up in memory of Michael Edward Wolsynuk, a fellow known as Red, who liked jokes and Tim Hortons and chili and belt buckles, the bigger the better.

1 comment:

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