Nick Siskopoulos sits on a memorial bench in his longtime partner’s name at Cherry Beach looking out at the water.
“You made everyone feel welcome. Your spirit will not be forgotten. You left us too soon” reads the engraving to Kristy Hodgson and beloved dog Betty.
The 31 year old Toronto woman was killed while walking her two beloved Whippets on Dundas Street East, approaching Carlaw Avenue on a sunny afternoon in April 2015.
Surveillance video captured a black Honda Civic, driven by 18 year old Gideon Fekre, cross a bike lane and mount the sidewalk, plowing down Hodgson and one of the two dogs.
He was charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death but later found not guilty.
“The courtroom just went quiet and no one could believe what happened and it was very difficult to comprehend,” recalls Siskopoulos of the verdict that was delivered two months ago.
It’s taken him until now to be able to speak publicly about the outcome.
“It should have been one of those open and shut cases where a driver hits someone. It was not the pedestrian’s fault. It was the driver’s fault and Kristy was killed and I lost my dog,” he said, voice trembling.
Friends who were inside the courtroom remember the shock.
“Obviously you know it could go both ways but you just don’t believe it in that moment. It was an outcome that didn’t reflect that she’s no longer with us,” says friend Karlene Headley-Cooper.
“It was a distraction, it was an accident, but there’s consequences to those actions.”
Kristy Hodgon’s father remembers being unable to stand up, when the verdict came down.
“Absolutely shocked the heck out of me,” John Hodgson said.
“With the guy going completely free, not a slap on the wrist, his insurance won’t even go up, absolutely nothing, there’s no closure to it and there never will be any closure,” he adds.
John Hodgson says that while it’s been nearly three years since his daughter died, every time he sees a little girl or someone walking a dog, his heart breaks.
Since the decision, friends and family of Kristy Hodgson have banded together to create a public service announcement.
They want to see changes to the laws around road safety.
“Often what we see is after a horrible incident like this police will lay a dangerous driving charge even though they know often the result is the same, which is the accused person or motorist walks away,” explained lawyer Albert Koehl.
Koehl is a road safety advocate pushing for a vulnerable road users law because he claims drivers who hit pedestrians are generally not charged or see their charges reduced significantly.
“We want more significant penalties, not just fines, but also license suspensions, requiring the motorist to go to court when he or she is convicted, driver training programs, community service, it doesn’t bring the person back obviously but it does try to give a closer semblance of justice,” said Koehl.
In September, the Ontario government made changes to the Highway Traffic Act (HTA.) Motorists who hurt or kill through careless driving could now face fines of up to $50,000 and two years in jail.
But Siskopoulos said, “it doesn’t matter if there are stricter penalties if they aren’t enforced.”
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