How a powerful new documentary is keeping Hannah Thorne's memory alive

·4 min read
Hannah Thorne was 18 when she was killed by two men racing each other on Route 75 near New Harbour, N.L. (Facebook - image credit)
Hannah Thorne was 18 when she was killed by two men racing each other on Route 75 near New Harbour, N.L. (Facebook - image credit)
Hannah Thorne was 18 when she was killed by two men racing each other on Route 75 near New Harbour, N.L.
Hannah Thorne was 18 when she was killed by two men racing each other on Route 75 near New Harbour, N.L.(Facebook)

It's been nearly five years since Hannah Thorne was killed by two men drag racing on a narrow highway, and her mother is still being dominated by the grief in her chest on a daily basis.

Gail Thorne has watched her daughter's friends grow from teenage girls into young adults, and often imagines Hannah standing alongside them, sharing in the same milestones — their first apartment, first day of university, their graduation.

But while the men responsible for her daughter's death have left their jail cells and moved into halfway houses and beyond, Thorne still can't rest at night.

"There's no moving on," she said during an interview at her home in New Harbour, N.L. "Some people say you move forward, but I'm just dodging along. I think of Hannah every single day. I don't sleep well since that [day]. That's something I'd love to have, is a good night's sleep. But as soon as I wake up my thought is 'Hannah.' I'm consumed."

Gail Thorne, mother of Hannah Thorne, is pained each day by the loss of her daughter in 2016.
Gail Thorne, mother of Hannah Thorne, is pained each day by the loss of her daughter in 2016.(Sherry Vivian/CBC)

One of the few times she feels any relief is when she talks about her daughter. In the aftermath of the crash, as Hannah's family and friends were thrust headlong into the justice system, they opened their doors to filmmaker Roger Maunder. He documented their grief and activism, as they fought for changes to Newfoundland and Labrador's Highway Traffic Act.

Thorne said they decided to do the documentary to extend Hannah's life beyond her premature death.

"Hannah was only 18. I just can't believe that she was here for 18 years and to have her life ended like that… there just has to be more to her story."

Now they want the documentary to be used as an educational tool. One driving school, SafetyNL, has already agreed to include segments of it in its course for prospective drivers across the province.

WATCH | See the full documentary by filmmaker Roger Maunder:

"I'm hoping that every driving school across Newfoundland will eventually take this and use it as a learning tool," Thorne said.

Still pushing for change

In the months after the crash, Hannah Thorne's friends and family lobbied the provincial government to make changes. They were successful.

Through their STAND for Hannah Foundation — STAND is an acronym for "Stand Together Against Negligent Driving" —they helped convince the Newfoundland and Labrador government to introduce stiffer fines and suspensions for offences like drag racing and dangerous driving.

While Gail Thorne took some solace in that, she's still shaken to see RCMP news releases about drivers regularly being clocked at speeds topping 170 km/h.

She hopes they can lobby Service NL Minister Sarah Stoodley to bolster the Highway Traffic Act again.

"To still see this continue is another reason why I think that what we've added needs to be strengthened," Thorne said. "If they're not going to get it this way, let's nail it a little harder."

No forgiveness, no past tenses

Brian King and Robert Mercer were both sentenced to federal prison time for their role in Hannah Thorne's death.

King was behind the wheel of a truck when he slammed into the car Hannah Thorne and her grandmother were in. He took more than a year to plead guilty, and was sentenced to four years in December 2017. Gail Thorne said she knew he would get day parole after serving one-third of his sentence, but it didn't make it any easier when it happened.

Mercer, who fled the scene of the crash, took his case to trial. He was found guilty on Oct. 29, 2019.

Brian King, left, and Steven Mercer both received federal jail sentences for causing Hannah Thorne's death.
Brian King, left, and Steven Mercer both received federal jail sentences for causing Hannah Thorne's death.(Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Because neither man admitted their guilt immediately after the crash, Thorne said, she will never be able to entertain the idea of forgiving either one of them.

"Someone who deliberately puts people through that and don't own up for their part in that — how can you forgive somebody for that? Nah."

The crash is in the past, but the pain is still very present — and so is the love she has for her child.

"It's very hard to speak about her with a 'was.' I'm still her mother," she said. "My love is still growing for her even though she's not here physically."

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