The melancholy chords of Alan Jackson’s Sissy’s Song —about a wife and mother who died too soon — drifted over a crowd of hundreds in Fort Saskatchewan, where a vigil was held to honour a selfless life cut tragically short.
Kassandra Gartner, just 45 years old, was a mother, a beloved wife, and known in her wider community as the executive director of the food bank in the city just northeast of Edmonton.
“Her first priority was always her husband Kirk and three beautiful daughters,” her sister Cheri Lund said tearfully while speaking at the vigil Thursday night. “A close second was the Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank.
Gartner had driven over a spike belt intended for the U-Haul, and when she got out to inspect the damage, police said the van hit the Fort Saskatchewan woman and left her to die on the dark country road.
Fort Saskatchewan mom Kassandra Gartner identified as U-Haul hit-and-run victim
At Thursday’s vigil, members of the community and her loved ones spoke of a passionate woman who was generous with her love, time and affection.
“Those who knew Kass would agree with me when I say she’s a force to be reckoned with,” her sister said.
“She was determined, loyal, and kind to her core.”
Lund wanted to honour her sister and reached out to family friend Carla Skibinsky for help organizing a candlelit vigil.
Skibinsky said she’d known Gartner for about a decade and called her a legend in Fort Saskatchewan.
“With the legacy she leaves behind and all the great things she did for the community, it’s just really hard. Everyone in our community is definitely grieving her loss,” Skibinsky said.
“She just really wants the best for everyone and the best for our community. So it was really important to honour that legacy.”
At the vigil was a collection box for the Fort Saskatchewan Food Bank, where Gartner dedicated years of her life to helping those less fortunate in the community.
“Kass often spoke of the volunteers, telling me how proud she was of the team she had the privilege to work with,” her sister said, thanking those who had such a positive impact on Kassandra’s life.
Hundreds of people braved the cold February night to sing, hold candles and listen to not just Lund and Skibinsky, but others in the community praise Gartner’s life and legacy.
Schoolteacher and family friend Carole Bossert’s teenage son grew up with Gartner’s daughter. She said her late friend would, at the drop of a hat, come help out in her classroom and encourage the kids.
“Whether they were on a journey of needing help or that they could be helpers — I love that about her,” Bossert said.
Bossert said she wasn’t surprised at the size of the crowd, but it was heartwarming nonetheless.
“So many people love her and honour her and are thankful for what she has done.”
Both Skibinsky and Lund spoke of how Gartner began volunteering at the food bank in 2016 and made it her mission to grow it.
“Kass saw a need in this tight-knit community that she loved and she rose to the occasion — she never shied away from a challenge,” Lund said.
Under Gartner’s direction, the food bank moved into a new, 60,000-square-foot location that better served the city, but it came with a $3-million mortgage.
“She really took the bull by the horns and got this incredibly huge building that the food bank now operates out of,” Skibinsky said, adding Gartner and her volunteers have so far managed to raise $1.5 million towards paying it off.
On Thursday night, Lund encouraged people to donate to the Kassandra Gartner Building Fund to help keep her sister’s dream a reality.
“I ask you to remember my sister Kassandra the way I do: a generous, supportive, kind and beautiful person whose work can live on.”
Skibinsky said she’ll miss her friend that gave so much to the community.
“She’s just such an amazing, amazing woman and everything she did was just for other people,” she said.
“She was so selfless that she just gave her heart to everything she did.”
The deadly situation began Saturday night south of Edmonton, where Mounties were searching for the U-Haul suspected of being involved in stealing Amazon packages from porches in Beaumont.
Police found and tried to stop the van but it rammed an RCMP vehicle and sped away, police said. RCMP from Beaumont, Leduc and Strathcona County joined the pursuit and the Edmonton Police Service also responded.
As the U-Haul truck was driving north on Highway 814/50th Street into Edmonton, a tire-deflation device was deployed by RCMP inside city limits, but before the intended target arrived, three passenger vehicles ran over the spike belt and were disabled. Gartner’s vehicle was one of them.
Spike belt protocol questioned after death of Alberta mom during police pursuit
After she was hit, RCMP said the U-Haul then struck another vehicle, leaving a man in serious condition.
The U-Haul ended up outside a 7-Eleven convenience store and Esso gas station off 22nd Avenue and 50th Street SW in the Walker neighbourhood.
That is where, according to RCMP, the suspect sole a car that was parked outside the gas station that had a child inside. The child was found unharmed a few blocks away.
The stolen car was later found on Monday in Wainwright, which is about 200 km southeast of Edmonton, where the suspect was arrested at an apartment building the following day.
Peter Richard Ashby, 35, of no fixed address, is facing a slew of charges, including dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm, assault on an office and flight from police, theft of car, theft of mail under $5,000 and operation of a vehicle while prohibited.
RCMP described the accused as a “transient prolific offender” who was wanted on warrants out of Spruce Grove and Edmonton, as well as in Saskatchewan, for various thefts and vehicle offences.
Man RCMP called ‘ prolific offender’ charged in Edmonton U-Haul fatal hit-and-run
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