10 years after he was struck by a drunk driver, this Coquitlam man is still recovering

·4 min read
Stu Widdowson, pictured in Coquitlam, B.C., on Dec. 15, 2021, was struck by a drunk driver nearly 10 years ago.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Stu Widdowson, pictured in Coquitlam, B.C., on Dec. 15, 2021, was struck by a drunk driver nearly 10 years ago. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

If you ask Stu Widdowson about the event that completely changed his life, he can't tell you much, only that he woke up three weeks later in a hospital bed.

"I remember I was at work with people and then I woke up in the hospital and I thought I was late for work and my mom's like, 'No it's been three weeks,' and she told me what happened," said the 37-year-old from his home in Coquitlam, B.C.

Widdowson was walking home from the grocery store where he worked at around 5 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2012, when he was hit by a truck driven by an impaired driver on Guildford Way in Port Moody. The truck struck Widdowson from behind, launching him nearly three metres into the air and into a wall.

An off-duty police officer stopped at the scene to help and was the one who discovered the injured Widdowson lying a distance away from where the truck had come to a stop after also hitting a utility box.

"If that police officer hadn't stopped I would probably have died on the spot," said Widdowson.

'Problems for the rest of my life'

Widdowson, a former rugby player, broke both cheek bones, a bone in his eye socket, fractured his skull, and severed his ocular nerve, which now requires him to wear glasses. He also sustained nerve damage that resulted in a loss of smell for three years.

Worst of all was a traumatic brain injury that has affected his ability to work and do everyday activities like going to the grocery store.

"I will have these problems for the rest of my life where the damage is in my brain, they call it executive function, so multitasking, problem solving, all that sort of stuff," he explained. "Things that I could easily do before, I have to make a conscious effort to do them now."

Stu Widdowson
Stu Widdowson

According to ICBC, impaired driving is the third leading cause of fatal collisions in British Columbia.

Over the past 10 years more than 20 per cent of fatal crashes have been caused by drivers who were impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication. On average, 65 people are killed each year in collisions where alcohol or drugs are a factor, while thousands of others are injured.

Victims like Widdowson and anti-drunk-driving advocates say the problem persists despite new penalties, better options for people to get around while impaired, and more awareness.

"When you drive impaired and you cause a crash you're just affecting so many people. Their lives are changed forever because of someone's selfish act," said Tracy Crawford, a regional manager for Mother's Against Drunk Driving Canada (MADD).

The driver who injured Widdowson, Bradley Rockwell, was 47 at the time of the crash and was convicted of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm. He was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Experts told the courts that Rockwell had a blood-alcohol level of around 0.334 at the time — four times the legal limit — when he lost control of the vehicle.

Widdowson and his lawyer were also successful in a civil suit against the Vancouver pub where Rockwell had been drinking before driving to Port Moody.

In 2017, a B.C. Supreme Court judge assigned partial fault for the incident to the Cambie Bar and Grill in Vancouver, saying the bar neglected its duty to prevent Rockwell from becoming intoxicated to the point where he could not safely operate his vehicle.

'Not somebody who hates someone'

Widdowson says he occasionally sees Rockwell in the community, but has moved beyond being angry with him. He said over the past 10 years he has realized that negativity gets in the way of trying to improve his health and outlook.

"It was holding me back from how I actually am. I'm not somebody who hates someone," he said.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Widdowson credits the rehabilitation he's received for coming as far as he has from his injuries, but he's still unable to work regular hours and do heavy weightlifting in the gym, which he did before the crash. He also wants to relearn how to play the guitar, something he lost after being struck by Rockwell.

He hopes his story will do some good by making people who consider driving after drinking or doing drugs to hand over their keys.

"I find that people who get behind the wheel are selfish and self-righteous because they think, 'Oh, I can do this,' but how would they be able to cope if they killed someone?" he said.

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