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Mother of Brampton family injured in hit-and-run demands reform of bail and sentencing

Sam Ritchie is getting used to apartment living, one day after being released from St. John’s rehab. The single mother spent a month at St. John’s after two weeks at Sunnybrook hospital, where she was treated for multiples fractures and a traumatic brain injury she suffered when she and her two children were struck in an alleged hit-and-run collision in early August. The family dog, named Finnegan, was killed in the crash.

Ritchie said her pain turned to anger and confusion when she learned the driver who struck the family’s 2021 Hyundai Tucson, and allegedly fled the scene after the crash on foot, had been prohibited from driving. Police said the 2016 Dodge Ram pick-up truck he was driving was stolen.

Ritchie is confused why sentences are not stiffer and is advocating for bail reform.

“Is there no other way to monitor these people? Why was he able to just get in a truck again? I know he had a province-wide ban. Is there no other way to monitor these people?”

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The midtown Toronto building where she now lives is a long way from the Brampton townhouse where the 49-year-old kindergarten teacher lived with her two children prior to the crash. It’s accessible and close to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. There, her 8-year-old son Nixon is expected to be recovering from his injuries until late November at least. Ritchie is still using a walker to get around. Her daughter needs a wheelchair.

“My children are alive but my son’s fate is still very precarious,” said Ritchie wiping away tears recalling the evening of Aug. 3 when she and her kids were driving to their father’s house after attending dog obedience class at a Brampton pet store.

Ritchie said she remembers being stopped at a red light on Airport Road and the next thing she knew, she was lying on the ground looking up at a fireman’s helmet.

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“He was calling with me to stay with him. Then I saw glass everywhere and it dawned on me, what had happened and I started screaming for my kids. ‘Save my babies’,” her voice cracking as she recalls that terrible night.

The single mother was rushed to Sunnybrook Hospital while her son, 8-year-old Nixon, and daughter, 12-year-old Rocquel, were rushed to the Hospital for Sick Kids.

She suffered three pelvic fractures, five broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken orbital bone, a traumatic brain injury and nerve damage in her legs. Her daughter spent 15 days in hospital with a broken wrist and leg and a sprained neck. She had to have surgery to have pins put in her leg. Her son remains in hospital. She says he was paralyzed on his right side and is now attempting to talk and put pressure on his leg.

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“I didn’t know where my kids were for many days and when I finally came to, I couldn’t believe that we had been separated. I didn’t know really what happened. It took me a few days to figure out my son was in a medically induced coma. He was on a ventilator,” Ritchie explained.

Rocquel was unable to go back to school this fall and is working with a math tutor at home. She’s worried about her little brother and trying to understand why the accused was driving.

“I’m very upset at the person who did this to us,” said Ritchie. On August 17, Peel Police announced 40-year-old Gurpreet Hehar was arrested and charged with four counts of dangerous operation causing bodily harm, four counts of fail to remain causing bodily harm, possession of property obtained by crime, two counts of dangerous operation, two counts of fail to remain and five counts of operating while prohibited.

The news release says that “Gurpreet Hehar has a province-wide driving prohibition for multiple previous offences including impaired driving, dangerous driving and failing to stop for police. His past convictions include dangerous operation, flight while pursued by a peace officer, taking a motor vehicle without consent, and possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000.”

“I am very mad that this might happen again. If people that do this, are not put away or given longer sustainable sentences, than this will continue to happen,” she said.

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Ritchie, a Kindergarten teacher with the Toronto District School Board is now on long-term disability as she struggles to deal with her injuries and care for her children, but feels overwhelmed by the situation with the accused.

“My first thought it to be grateful for my children. They’re alive. I’m angry, though, how he’s continuing to do the same thing over and over again.”

She said she feels badly for police.

“They are putting these people away and then they’re putting them out on the police again. How do we help police officers do their job?”

Hehar appeared in court on Friday from Maplehurst Correctional Centre, speaking through a Punjabi interpreter. He remains in custody for now and returns to court on Monday.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help support the Ritchie family.

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