Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In death, he found an address at last

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 12, 2009


It is after midnight as party night has become Saturday morning. At the north end of Kelowna’s city limits, a black Pontiac 6000 sedan, a boxy car with a six-cylinder engine, rolls eastbound along a straight but rolling section of Sexsmith Road.

Just past St. Theresa Cemetery, as the road once again dips before rising, the car strikes a pedestrian.

The car keeps going.

The pedestrian does not.

An hour passed. Then another. And a third.

At 4:53 a.m., the RCMP got a telephone call. A body had been discovered on the gravel shoulder of the road.

On the roadway, police found an antenna and bits they believed were from the windshield and right-front corner of an automobile they suspected was an early 1990s General Motors product.

The car was long gone.

The battered body of a man, abandoned like a sack of trash, rested on the shoulder.

His name was Arthur Horton. He was 78. He was homeless.

He carried with him some of his most prized possessions. These included his medals from his time with the armed forces.

“He had not had a fixed residence for several years as he had fallen on hard times,” Constable Steve Holmes said in a press release. “For him, the ‘golden years’ were anything but that. It is a tragedy that this elderly man died alone and helpless on the side of a roadway, leaving his family no answers to the questions of what happened and why.”

Two days later, on July 20, police seized a black sedan on Morrison Road, about four kilometres from where Mr. Horton had been struck. It is believed the car continued along Sexsmith, past a popular Tim Hortons, before being abandoned. Three men were seen leaving the car, a 1989 model. (Police had been off by a year.) The car had been reported stolen.

Const. Holmes urged the surrender of the driver responsible for hitting the homeless veteran.

The investigation continues.

Three weeks passed.

On Sunday, a small group of Mr. Horton’s friends gathered on Sexsmith Road. Some knew him from morning coffee at the doughnut shop. One woman identified herself as his former landlady. A minister, who was not wearing a collar, conducted an informal memorial service.

A wreath was placed on the site where he had died. Small children decorated the wreath with colourful flowers.

People spoke, uttering the typical remarks about how good a man the deceased had been.

A half-dozen members of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 26, were also on hand.
None of them had ever met Mr. Horton. But the police had described him as a former serviceman, so they took it as their duty to attend the roadside memorial service.

They brought with them a boom box for which they had a compact disk with a recording of a bugle call for the traditional Last Post ceremony. A moment of silence was observed. A prayer was said. The Legion Act of Remembrance was recited, the repeated refrain of “We will remember them” causing even the most hardbitten to choke up.

Then, a recording of reveille sounded, the spirited music meant to reflect the resurrection of the spirit of the fallen.

At most services, Legion members parade out of a church service to form a guard of honour. The roadside service did not allow for such formal trappings. Instead, they joined the dead man’s friends at his favourite coffee shop, the Tim Hortons past which callous criminals fled, just down the road from where he fell.

“He was down and out,” said Frank Truman, a former president of the Legion’s Kelowna branch. “There were some things the Legion could have done to assist him. I’m sure Veterans Affairs Canada could have helped out.

“But if you don’t know, you can’t do anything.”

By his age and by the police description, Mr. Truman figures the man either served during the Korean War, or as a 1950s peacekeeper in the Middle East.

Though he had never met Mr. Horton, he was pleased to have been invited to recognize a fellow veteran. He enjoyed the informal nature of the memorial service.

“It was kind of nice,” Mr. Truman said.

Arthur Horton died after several years adrift with no fixed address, according to police.

His final moments were spent in the 3100-block Sexsmith Road in Kelowna, an address at last for a man whose misfortunes seemed limitless.

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