Prince George Citizen editor recalls being first at hit-and-run scene

First at the scene

It’s a miracle I didn’t run her over.

The highway was black and Brenda Palmieri’s seriously injured body was lying in the darkness on a blind curve on Highway 97 at just before 7 p.m. on Dec. 16.

I saw her at the very last moment and swerved, barely missing her. Fortunately, no one was in the left lane heading south on the Hart Highway into Prince George.

I came to a stop about 50 metres away from Palmieri, in the pullout on Noranda Road West. My wife Ronda was already calling 911 on her cell as she jumped out of our truck.

As I ran towards Palmieri, another driver had already stopped between my vehicle and Palmieri. 

That female driver and I began frantically waving at a semi-truck coming towards Palmieri. Thankfully, it was towing an empty flatbed trailer and was able to move into the left lane but came dangerously close to sideswiping one vehicle and rear-ending someone in the left lane who had slammed on their brakes.

As Ronda, the other female driver and I ran up to Palmieri, I remember seeing the frosted puffs of air and was thankful she was still breathing.

Even if we had wanted to move her off the highway, we couldn’t have as that southbound stretch is bordered by a retaining wall about six feet high. 

Already, several more people had stopped and offered to help.

“I’m a lifeguard. Do you need help?” asked the female passenger of one southbound vehicle.

“Yes! Yes!” we said.

As the women tended to the semi-conscious Palmieri, I walked further, having turned on the light on my cell phone to wave it to alert approaching drivers. A moment later, I saw another man wearing a high-visibility safety vest heading further up the highway to divert approaching traffic into the left lane.

Palmieri was face down initially and was helped into the recovery position and urged to stay still, but the bleeding from a head wound was worrisome. The biggest immediate concern was the state of her leg. It was broken in several spots and we could see bones protruding as her blood was pooling on the road.

Ronda was still on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. Her call had been the first one through and the dispatcher insisted she stay on the line until emergency crews arrived. Another woman who came to the scene had guided Ronda to move away from Palmieri while talking to 911 to shield her from hearing the extent of her injuries.

Ronda gathered Palmieri’s ID that was strewn around on the road and happened to notice the name “Brenda” before another woman took the ID and placed it in Palmieri’s boot that had fallen off.

“We need something to tie her leg,” the lifeguard said.

“Take off your scarf,” Ronda said, turning to me. 

It was the start of a week off work before Christmas for both of us and we had been on our way to the Railway Museum’s Celebration of Lights with family members and, for the first time this winter, I had worn a scarf, knowing I would be outside for a length of time and it was already -10 C. 

I yanked the scarf off and handed it to the lifeguard.

By this time, we could hear the sirens and see the flashing lights coming towards us from both the north and south.

The lifeguard was holding Palmieri’s hand while telling her that help had arrived.

The paramedics went to work, quickly cutting away Palmieri’s jacket and shirt.

I looked at Ronda, stunned, hoping she wouldn’t confirm what I had just seen.

“She’s pregnant,” she nodded.

In shock, I went back to my truck for mitts and a toque, noticing the debris on the highway from the vehicle that must have struck Palmieri shortly before we arrived on the scene.

I told the Prince George RCMP officer who took statements from me and Ronda that I had a vague memory of another vehicle a hundred yards or so ahead of me but that was all.

The officer asked if we had a dash cam (we didn’t – but we do now).

I alerted the officer to the wreckage on the highway. There was a fully intact signal light close to where the second vehicle had stopped, between my truck and Palmieri. The casing for a headlight was lying on the road in front of my truck.

We weren’t allowed to leave until an officer had a look under our truck to make sure there wasn’t any significant debris or other evidence lying there.

Neither Ronda or I slept well that night, our brains spinning with worry about Palmieri and her unborn child and so many questions about what had happened.

I was also deeply grateful.

If I had been glancing at the rearview mirror or been looking anywhere other than right in front of me, I’m certain I would have run her over and killed her.

I was so thankful for the calm kindness of Ronda, for the driver who stopped behind me, for the lifeguard who appeared out of nowhere and for the family members who had been in a vehicle a couple minutes behind us who were there to support us afterwards.

Our relief at the news Palmieri would live was shattered upon learning her unborn son Maverick had not survived.

We’ve driven past the spot where we found her that night numerous times since, still reliving what we witnessed.

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