An Ottawa nursing school graduate recently had the ride of her life, stopping to help at a serious crash only to have her own car stolen.
Vanessa Fortino and her boyfriend were driving home on the Vanier Parkway at around 11 p.m. Thursday after buying groceries when she noticed something approaching fast in her rearview mirror.
"I kind of swerved out of the way, because a car was driving towards me going at least 100 [to] 120 kilometres an hour," she recalled Sunday afternoon.
Believing it was a reckless driver racing late at night, Fortino initially didn't think much of it — until about 15 seconds later, as they approached Queen Mary Street.
"We're one of the first cars to pull up to this massive, horrific car accident," she said.
Realizing the two-vehicle crash was likely caused by the driver who passed her, Fortino's nursing instincts kicked into gear. She jumped out of her Toyota RAV4 to offer assistance. The keys were in her pocket, but she hadn't turned off the engine in her push-to-start vehicle, and her boyfriend also had gotten out.
She initially went to help an older man in a white car. Its front end had been crumpled by the crash and was "completely gone," Fortino said.
When she realized the man, while shaken, wasn't in critical condition, she moved on to the black car, which was approximately 100 metres away and had flipped multiple times.
With glass and debris littering the road, Fortino sprinted, believing the driver could be dead.
"There's somebody on the other side of the sidewalk, another bystander, and he screams out to me, and he goes, 'Nobody's in there!' And I look over at him. And I'm like, 'What do you mean, nobody's in there?'"
Almost at that exact moment, another car emerged from beyond the rubble.
"All you hear is like a car engine kind of rev like, 'vrooooom.' [It] swerves right through all the glass and debris. ... You can hear the sounds of the metal, like, hitting the car tires and stuff," she said.
"The car speeds through there. And immediately, as soon as I see the lights of that car, I noticed — that is my car!"
'Expecting my car to be totalled'
At the time, Fortino didn't make the connection that the driver who'd crashed the black car had enough strength to not only walk away from the crash, but to steal her Toyota.
After asking someone else at the scene if they could catch a lift, Fortino, her boyfriend and their two new driving companions raced off. Since her cellphone was still in her car, the group could trace it.
"I was expecting my car to be totalled," Fortino said Sunday afternoon.
When they found the car, the man who had stolen it was already in the back of a police cruiser, Fortino said. Officers had spotted the speeding vehicle and followed.
Although he'd driven Fortino's car over the curb and wedged it against a street sign, he missed a nearby fire hydrant and tree. Some of her belongings were damaged — including a recently purchased computer — but the car was in one piece, with only minimal damage on the outside.
She drove it home later that night.
"There's a little bit of, I'd say, [bloody] and muddy hand prints on my steering wheel, my door handle, my centre console and the [gear shift]," she said.
In an email Monday, Ottawa police said a 48-year-old Ottawa man was charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, theft of a motor vehicle, failure to stop after an accident, and possession of proceeds of property obtained by crime over $5,000.
With Fortino's hectic Thursday night behind her, she's pleased the other man involved in the crash is OK. And she's walking away from the incident with a lesson she never thought she'd learn.
"Don't ever leave your engine on and park your car, even in an emergency situation," she said. "Because the person you're trying to help might steal your car."