'We can't be stopped because of this,' says young immigrant couple hit in devastating downtown crash

Emilia Ballester (left) pictured with her husband Carlos Bastarrachea (right) outside Providence Healthcare in Scarborough where he is undergoing care for his amputated left leg. (Farrah Merali/CBC News - image credit)
Emilia Ballester (left) pictured with her husband Carlos Bastarrachea (right) outside Providence Healthcare in Scarborough where he is undergoing care for his amputated left leg. (Farrah Merali/CBC News - image credit)

On the inside of Carlos Bastarrachea's right forearm is a tattoo of an airplane circling a globe with the date Dec. 6, 2020, the date when he and his wife Emilia Ballester arrived to start their new life in Toronto. She has the same one, meant to look like a passport stamp.

"We were fortunate and brave enough to just get out of Mexico and try something different, you know, pursue a dream," Bastarrachea said.

Just a year and a half into their new life in Canada, the 32-year-old is now facing a challenge they never dreamed of: learning to live his life without a left leg.

Supplied by Emilia Ballester
Supplied by Emilia Ballester

Bastarrachea was one of two people struck by an alleged impaired driver in downtown Toronto on Canada Day. The other man who was hit died, and six others were injured. While Bastarrachea survived, his leg was so badly injured it had to be amputated.

As Bastarrachea prepares to leave hospital on Friday, the couple is preparing to adapt to their life in Canada in a completely different way.

Bastarrachea and Ballester were downtown on Canada Day, hoping there was a fireworks show near the CN Tower. After realizing there wasn't, they went for dinner at a restaurant near Front Street and University Avenue.

The crash happened as they were walking back to their apartment, northbound on University Avenue near Wellington Street, at around 11:30 p.m.

"We get there and we have the pedestrian red light, so we wait out our turn," Bastarrachea said.

"When the [pedestrian] light hits green, we start crossing. And I just hear this car coming in at full speed."

Bastarrachea said he saw a car hit two other cars, then it started spinning toward them

"It just happened so fast," he said.

"I fall to the ground and immediately I feel this great stinging, burning sensation on my leg as I'm laying down in a plank position."

Merhdad Nazarahari/CBC News
Merhdad Nazarahari/CBC News

Bastarrachea was rushed to hospital in an ambulance but not before he was able to catch a glimpse of his leg.

"It was completely tarnished," Bastarrachea said.

"My foot was kind of, like, all the way twisted to the other side, and there was just a lot of blood."

'I just wanted Carlos to be OK'

Ballester wasn't hit, but suffered a second-degree hamstring strain trying to quickly turn away.

She went to hospital with Bastarrachea, where he was sedated. She was told he needed to be assessed and that it would be a few hours. She went home to check on their dog and a few hours later she received an urgent call from the doctor.

"He told me.. we're going to have to amputate his leg because his leg is completely lost, there's no muscle or skin. So I need you to come to the hospital right now," Ballester said.

"But I just wanted Carlos to be OK, to have a normal life as soon as possible instead of trying to recover that leg that maybe wasn't even saveable."

Supplied by Emilia Ballester
Supplied by Emilia Ballester

It's a decision Bastarrachea acknowledges wasn't easy for his wife, but said he's grateful for it.

What lies ahead for the couple is adapting his life to their new physical reality, from modifying their apartment to be accessible, to Bastarrachea eventually learning to walk with a prosthetic.

They've set up a GoFundMe page to help prepare for the financial burden of prosthetics, modifications to their home and other costs in their future.

"There's ramps, there's elevators, there's a lot of things that will help me with mobility because while the prosthetic comes, I need to move myself around in a wheelchair," Bastarrachea said.

The couple says this all happened just as they were beginning to really settle in the city. Bastarrachea said he was doing well at his job for a company that does travel concierge services. He had plans for summer, and was hoping to take a beginners adult hockey class in the fall.

Ballester— who trained in dance at Centennial College— was getting more and more gigs, and the couple was setting down roots.

"We just really felt like we started to belong here. As outsiders, we built this little family— our friends, who have been tremendous," Bastarrachea said.

'We can't be stopped because of this'

A 26-year-old driver was arrested and is facing multiple charges for the crash, including impaired driving causing death and bodily harm and dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm.

"Plans that we had, short-term plans, long-term plans … And you're like: Why was this taken away from me? Why me? Why at my age, you know, [as] a 32-year-old guy, I carry a healthy lifestyle. Why is this happening?" Bastarrachea said.

Supplied by Emilia Ballester
Supplied by Emilia Ballester

But despite that frustration, the couple remains deeply positive.

"We were victims of something that wasn't in our control. That's not going to bring my leg back. That's not going to bring our lives back, and it's not going to do us any good," Bastarrachea said.

"But out of this whole situation, a lot of positive things gained strength and gave us light and gave us purpose."

For now the couple says they're thankful for what they still have.

"Yes – there's anger, there's frustration, but there's a lot to look forward to," Ballester said.

"Like, we can't be stopped because of this."

"I cannot help feeling grateful that I'm still alive, that Emilia didn't have anything remotely close to this," Bastarrachea said.

"You're here, you're next to me, and, you know, I'm still able to hold her with my hands. I didn't lose my hands, and I'm still able to do that."