The wife of a man who is recovering from severe injuries is speaking out about road safety after the couple’s vehicle was hit by a flying tire while travelling on Highway 400.
Benjamin Schenk got up early on the morning of Saturday, May 18 to make sure his car, a Mazda3, was mechanically safe.
“At 7 a.m., he made sure that everything in his car was perfect before making the three-hour drive to his parents’ cottage so he did his due diligence,” said Schenk’s wife, Bella De Bartolo.
The couple decided to spent the Victoria Day long weekend with Schenk’s parents at their cottage and started driving northbound on Highway 400, but when they reached Highway 89, their car was struck by a flying tire and both Schenk and De Bartolo were hit.
“I heard him scream all of a sudden. I was looking out of the window so I was totally oblivious so when he was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ I look and I see this object coming at me,” De Bartolo recalled.
“I didn’t really understand what it was at the time. And then, when it hit us, I realized what it was. I closed my eyes and I felt everything just bang into me and I didn’t hear anything from Ben at all anymore, which was kind of scary.”
De Bartolo says the car was still moving forward at a high rate of speed so she climbed on top of her husband, who was no longer responsive, and tried to put on the brakes. Unsuccessful, she decided to take evasive action against causing a further collision and swerved the steering wheel toward the median.
“I could see [Schenk] from the corner of my eye … I just had to put it out of my head for a second. ‘Isabella, stop the car, you don’t want other people to die.’ I thought I was already dead, I thought he was already dead — I thought it was the end of us.” De Bartolo said, adding that she managed to bring the car to a stop.
De Bartolo was taken to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie while her husband was airlifted to Sunnybrook Hospital’s trauma centre in Toronto.
After the crash, Schenk spent six weeks at Sunnybrook, four of those weeks in a coma on a ventilator. His injuries included a broken jaw and wrist as well as cuts to his face, head and hand.
But more concerning to the family were the injuries the 32-year-old suffered to his brain. Doctors say he suffered a diffuse axonal injury, and De Bartolo says they have been vague about his chances for recovery.
“I feel like they don’t like to say much just because everybody does recover [differently], even if they have the same injury,” De Bartolo said.
Schenk is in a wheelchair and wears a mitt on his right hand to prevent him from scratching off the cast on his left wrist. He’s also trying to communicate but has difficulty talking.
His wife says doctors tell Schenk he experienced a Level 4 or 5 brain injury out of eight. She’s been told his confusion and aggravation are part of the healing process.
“I can also think that being in a bed all the time and realizing yourself that hey, I can’t walk anymore, I can’t speak properly, people aren’t understanding me, that’s hard for him,” said De Bartolo.
The couple was planning to celebrate their two-year wedding anniversary on Aug. 19, but De Bartolo wonders how they will mark that occasion.
“I don’t know what next week is going to look like,” she said.
The couple says they are still waiting to hear if the driver of the vehicle that lost its wheel is going to be charged. De Bartolo believes someone should be held accountable.
“I know he may not be a bad man, but it’s negligence. And it wasn’t Ben’s negligence,” she said.
Ontario Provincial Police told Global News that charges have yet to be laid, and the investigation remains ongoing.
The couple’s lawyer, Craig Brown, told Global News that Schenk has yet to qualify for catastrophic benefits, which includes up to $1 million for medical rehabilitation and attendant care. De Bartolo says that since it’s unclear if Schenk will ever be able to work again, they are now struggling financially.
“I’m 25, I work full time and I go to school full time. That’s not happening right now,” said De Bartolo.
The family has started a GoFundMe page to help cover rising expenses during Schenk’s recovery.
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