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‘I just live life in pain, it’s my price to be alive,’ says impaired driving victim years after being struck

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Molly Burton barely survived catastrophic injuries. And she barely survived the chronic pain, anguish and addiction that followed.

And perhaps the hardest part is that it was all caused by something that’s preventable: impaired driving.

“The kind of injuries that happened to me, you know, disabled for life and in chronic pain are 100 per cent preventable,” said the 34-year-old from her home in Nanaimo, B.C., about the night that changed her life forever on Sept. 11, 2013.

The story of her horrific incident and survival comes at a time of year when officials and advocates are worried about people consuming alcohol or drugs as part of holiday celebrations and then operating a vehicle.

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While police are out actively trying to catch people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they also hope the stories of victims will be a powerful tool in prevention.

“We see entire families destroyed by this, and it’s not just the family that’s in the collision. It’s the extended family beyond that. It’s people who’ve lost family members,” said Chief Supt. Holly Turton, the RCMP officer in charge of the force’s highway patrol.

A woman in a hospital bed with bandages on her leg and arm.
Molly Burton in hospital in 2013 after being struck by an impaired driver in Comox B.C. (Submitted by Molly Burton)

Impairment from alcohol or drugs is the third-leading cause of crashes in the province, behind distraction and speed. On average, 64 people die each year from crashes where impairment is a contributing factor. Many more are injured.

Burton was living with her parents in Comox when she was struck by a 16-year-old local teen who was impaired and driving on a learner’s license.

It happened when Burton was 24 and walking home along Comox Road’s paved shoulder.

Burton said she heard a speeding vehicle coming toward her but couldn’t get out of its path as it swerved and struck her.

She ended up in a tangle of blackberry bushes in a ditch while the driver left the scene without calling 911.

For hours Burton lay in the cold, wet mud, screaming out for help before a bystander was able to locate her and call for assistance.

She said the only thing that kept her from bleeding to death from one of her legs, which was shattered, was that she landed in a position where her leg was above her heart.

“It features heavily in my nightmares,” she said. “It was so dark, and it was so cold.”

At 4 a.m. Burton’s parents Leslie Wells, 62, and Ralph Burton, 63, got the call that is every parent’s worst nightmare: it was RCMP explaining what had happened.

The couple was already awake as they were to fly to the U.S. for a vacation that morning. Instead, they rushed to their daughter and were told she might not survive.

“It’s terrifying because … nobody would commit to Molly living,” said Ralph Burton. “Her injuries were described as catastrophic, and everybody was just saying, ‘We’re going to do everything that we can, but we can’t make any guarantees.'”

Long list of injuries

Burton did survive, and when asked about all her injuries, it takes minutes for her to chronicle them.

They include losing 10 centimetres of her shin bone, multiple compound fractures, a broken shoulder, broken teeth, nerve damage and a brain injury. Photos from the hospital show the redhead looking grim-faced.

“There’s metal just everywhere,” she said about her body. “Just everywhere.”

A woman wearing a Santa hat sits in a wheelchair with a large metal bar attached to her leg.
Molly Burton poses for a photograph at Christmas time in December 2013, three months after being critically injured by an impaired driver in Comox B.C. (Submitted by Leslie Wells)

Burton said she has undergone 11 surgeries and only within the last three years has she been able to stop using a wheelchair.

“I just live life in pain … the price I pay to be alive today … and it’s most of the time worth it.”

Perhaps the hardest part of her ordeal was the deep depression she sank into once most of her ongoing medical appointments had ceased. She still faced debilitating chronic pain and had little to do in life as her brain injury even kept her from reading, something she did voraciously before the incident.

“It was almost like losing my sense of self and my identity. Every dream I had for my future, every goal I had, every plan I had, even how I conceptualized my sense of myself was all taken from me,” she said.

Two women embrace and smile for a photograph.
Molly Burton and her mother Leslie Wells together in a photo years after Burton’s tragic accident. (Submitted by Molly Burton)

Burton started drinking to cope and soon spiralled out of control. She landed back in hospital twice due to her addiction and depression.

“We almost lost her twice,” said her mother.

Burton said during her second time in hospital, due to her alcohol consumption, she somehow found the inner strength and clarity to realize she needed to change.

“I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was like, ‘I don’t want to die, and I’m going to kill myself if I keep doing this. I need to turn my life around.'”

A woman and her father dance at a wedding.
Molly Burton dances with her father Ralph Burton at a family wedding weeks before she was struck and critically injured by an impaired driver in Comox B.C. on Sept. 11, 2013. (Submitted by Leslie Wells)

As she succeeded in overcoming her addiction and coped with her pain and anguish from the accident, she began volunteering in her community, working with other people struggling with the same things.

“She decided that she wanted to live and started making decisions with that perspective, and of course, we supported her the best that we could,” said father Ralph Burton. “I couldn’t be more proud of her today at what she’s doing with her life. She’s a gift to that community.”

Burton and her parents said the teen that struck her was eventually sentenced to six months house arrest for the incident.

‘I’m strong enough to survive’

The family said the ordeal has been a struggle, and anger has played a part. However, they choose more often to focus on acceptance than negativity toward the impaired driver.

“Yes, this awful, horrible thing happened for me. Yes, it’s a struggle daily, but maybe it happened to me because I’m strong enough to survive,” said Molly Burton.

“Maybe it happened to me because I’m capable of using that story to educate others on the dangers of drinking and driving or help other people move through chronic pain and addiction.”

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St-Onge urges provinces to accelerate efforts to make sports safer for athletes

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Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says ending abuse in sports will require complaints processes that include provincial-level athletes, not just national ones.

St-Onge and provincial sports ministers will meet during the Canada Games in mid-February where their agenda will include the ongoing effort to address widespread allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in sports.

She says she asked the provincial ministers at an August meeting to look at joining the new federal sport integrity process or creating their own.

The national sports integrity commissioner can only investigate allegations of abuse from athletes at the national level.

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But St-Onge says the vast majority of athletes aren’t in that category and only Quebec has its own sports integrity office capable of receiving and investigating complaints.

The national sport integrity office officially began its work last June and has since received 48 complaints from athletes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.

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Justice is a Privilege Reserved for the Few

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History is full of examples showing us that Justice is a privilege reserved for the few, the wealthy, politically and financially connected, in fact, those of the right colour or race depending on where and when this justice was to be dealt with. Justice must be earnt, and it expends a colossal cost. What do I mean?

When a justice system demands proof of your innocence, while viewing the accused as guilty until that proof surfaces, the system of justice seems to be blind to all but those with the ability to hire known lawyers and a defense team to point out any misunderstandings that arise. A Black Man with many priors stands before a judge, accused of violent crimes. Will such a man have the ability to raise money to get out of jail and hire a powerful legal team? If he is a financially well-off man perhaps, but if he is an “Average Joe”, the justice system swallows him up, incarcerating him while he waits for his trial, and possible conviction. While the justice system is supposed to be blind to financial, sexist, and racial coding, the statistics show White men often walk, and Black-Hispanic and men of color often do not. Don’t think so?

America’s Justice system has a huge penal population, well into the millions of citizens in public and private prisons across the land. According to Scientific America, 71% of those imprisoned are not white. So do you think these men and women got there because of their choices or did the system help to decide that while whites can be either excused, rehabilitated or found not endangering the greater society, “the others” are threats to the nation’s security and population?

White privilege is still prevalent within our system, with financial privilege a close second.

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The World was white, but now its really black(non-white)
Justice for all is never achieved, just verbatim.
What can justice do for the lowly man
while jails fill and are built anew continually?

When you are seen as an outsider always,
and the precious few escape societies’ hungry grasp.
Justice for all is the cry we all hear these days,
While the policeman stamps your future out at last.

Martin L says the Black Persons going to win this war,
and a war of attrition it truly has been.
Justice is a privileged and socially mobile thing,
leaving the many to pray to the spirit of Tyre Nichols,
asking what the hell can we do???

I walked through an airport recently with no problem and no questioning. Customs and border officers were busy getting into the face of many non-white travelers. To this very day, a non-white person flying anywhere with a long beard, and dressed like a Muslim could get you unwelcomed trouble. Being different will always create difficulties. Being out of your place in another financial-ethnic society will be a challenge. Race, financial and political privilege will forever be with us. The powerful will always be able to dance around the justice system’s rules and regulations. Why? Well, the justice system is an exclusive club, filled with lawyers and police. The administrators and enforcers of the system. Some other form of the judicial system is needed, with a firm root in community equality. Can our Justice System be truly blind to all influencers, but the laws of the land? Can victims of crime receive true justice, retribution in kind for the offenses carried out by criminals against them?

” In the final analysis, true justice is not a matter of courts and law books, but of a commitment in each of us to liberty and mutual respect”(Jimmy Carter). Mutual respect of all actors in the play known as the Justice System, influenced, manipulated, and written by lawyers and academics. God help us.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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By the numbers for British Columbia’s overdose crisis

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British Columbia’s chief coroner released overdose figures for 2022, showing 2,272 residents died from toxic drugs last year. Lisa Lapointe says drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost.

Here are some of the numbers connected to the overdose crisis:

189: Average number of deaths per month last year.

6.2: Average deaths per day.

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At least 11,171: Deaths attributed to drug toxicity since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

70: Percentage of the dead between 30 and 59 years old.

79: Percentage of those who died who were male.

65: Children and youth who have died in the last two years.

82: Percentage of the deaths where the toxic opioid fentanyl was involved.

73,000: People in B.C. who have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder.

8.8: The rate that First Nations women are dying, is a multiple of the general population’s rate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.

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