Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Suicide by car: On trauma, tragedy and ICBC policy

The tragic suicide by car of a 24-year-old on the Pat Bay Highway on Sunday takes me back to another similar suicide back in 2000 that I wrote about for the Times Colonist. 

There's a whole other set of victims when people kill themselves in the manner that these two young men did, 19 years apart.

Whoever is in the vehicle when a person randomly picks a moment to step into the road and be killed is almost certainly going to be haunted forever by that stranger's decision.

Here's my column on Ian Davidson's suicide on the Malahat in 2000, and a wish that ICBC does not play rough with the people involved in Sunday's tragedy like it did with the Coopsie family 19 years ago. 


Jody Paterson column in TC, January 2000

Davidson settled on death a long time ago. The only question was who would be the killer.

It turned out to be the Coopsie family, picked randomly from among the many travellers making their way north on the Malahat on that sunny afternoon two days after Christmas. Davidson, 25, waited beside his idling car just past the Spectacle Lake turnoff, waited until the Coopsies' truck was so close that there could only be one ending to this sad drama.

And then he jumped onto the road.

Dave Coopsie, driving to Duncan for a family dinner with his wife Dawn and their two youngest children, swerved toward oncoming traffic to avoid hitting him. But there was no room left to manoeuvre when Davidson lunged at the truck a second time. The young man died moments later, his years of suicide attempts finally over.

It took anguished minutes for the Coopsie truck to slow to a stop, anguished minutes more to walk back and try to figure out what had just happened. Dawn Coopsie cries every time she thinks of that young face pressed into their windshield, the sound of her two boys screaming at the sight of what her 10-year-old called ''the scary, scary man.'' He hasn't said a word about it since then; his mom found out only a couple of days ago that he'd been worrying that his dad was going to go to jail.

Greater Victoria Victim Services arrived soon after the accident to offer support, and the Shawnigan RCMP urged the family to consider counselling for their traumatized sons.

The Coopsies didn't have a clue who picks up the tab for the aftermath when your truck is written off by someone's suicide, when life goes sideways after an intimate involvement in a stranger's death. But they had car insurance and so did Davidson, and they figured ICBC would sort out the details.

ICBC had other plans, as it turned out. The adjuster spent all of five minutes with them the first time they met, just long enough to let them know that because they didn't have collision insurance, they'd have to pay for their towing charges and vehicle replacement themselves. Davidson wasn't actually driving his car at the time of the accident, noted the adjuster, so his insurance didn't come into play.

The insurance corporation had a bit of a change of heart a few days later after hearing from MLA Andrew Petter's office, which took up the Coopsies' cause after getting their desperate phone call. They'd get their towing fees reimbursed and a payout for their vehicle, ICBC told them, but no counselling. The adjuster wanted them to sign an agreement forfeiting their right to sue.

The family has already used up Dave Coopsie's annual health-plan allotment of six counselling sessions getting help for their boys after the suicide. They know it wasn't enough. But with five kids to raise, there isn't any money for more.

They were still trying to figure out how it is that a guy can kill himself on the hood of your car and you end up paying for the damage to your kids when ICBC had yet another change of heart late yesterday.

''There was a miscommunication between the manager and the adjuster,'' said ICBC spokeswoman Elizabeth Goldenshtein. ''The manager had advised paying for counselling, but the adjuster didn't know that. I'm going to be calling the family right now to tell them that.''

Maybe that will help counter Dawn Coopsie's impression that an adjuster's job must be to ''open and close a file as fast as possible.'' Maybe it will help a shattered family come to grips with the fact that there was nothing they could have done that day to get out of the way of a young man determined to die.

The coroner has yet to weigh in on the lonely death of Ian Davidson, whose long struggle with mental illness led him to try to kill himself several times in the past, once by jumping in front of a train. Dawn Coopsie wonders how he slipped through a system that apparently knew all about him, and her heart breaks for another suffering family whose own lives went sideways that day on the Malahat.

Victim services has sent a read-aloud booklet on suicide to the Coopsies to help them talk about it with their sons. Until 15 days ago, the boys barely knew what the word meant.

1 comment:

e.a.f said...

Years ago I read an article by the wife of a man who "drove" a train. She begged people to not commit suicide by train. She went on to explain the incredible toll it takes on the driver of the train.

In all these cases people might well be mentally ill, but there are easier ways to kill yourself and not create harm for the driver of the other vehicle.

It is difficult to know what could have been done for the person attempting suicide, especially if no one knew. however, in the case you outline, some one ought to have tried to help the young man before he not only destroyed his life but that of the other family's/. ICBC certainly didn't help the other victims, until it was brought to their attention.

Thank you for writing about this. In these cases there are two sets of victims.