One year later, Harty family wondering why still no results of fatal hit-and-run investigation

August 17, 2022 – The pleasant Saturday morning of August 28, 2021 suddenly turned horrific in the 100 block of First Avenue West in downtown Qualicum Beach when passers-by and members of a nearby gym witnessed a vehicle strike a pedestrian and carry on without stopping.

Impromptu memorial at the site in the 100 block of First Avenue West where Colm Harty, a resident of Qualicum Beach, was struck down by a hit-and-run driver on August 28, 2021. He died three days later.

Witnesses rushed to the aid of the badly-injured man while others ran after the vehicle, stopping the driver in the next block and detaining the person until police arrived.

Colm Harty died of his injuries three days later in Victoria General Hospital. One year later, Colm’s family is still waiting to hear the results of the RCMP investigation.

“All we have been told is that Oceanside RCMP recommended charges but we don’t know what the charges are,” said the man’s daughter, Ellen Harty, in a recent telephone interview.

“The investigating officer, Elijah Parrish, said his job was to write up a report for the Crown attorney in Nanaimo. He said they had to ‘cross every “t” and dot every “i” ‘ because they do not want the Crown to reject their report.

“The file didn’t get to the Crown until May 30th. My dad died on August 31st” said Ellen, concerned that it took so long to investigate the vehicle accident.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the BC Prosecution Service, told Second Opinion QB that the BCPS “can confirm that a Report to Crown Counsel related to the file number you provided was submitted by the Oceanside RCMP on June 1. That file is now under charge assessment. The BCPS will not comment on the circumstances related to that file nor confirm the identities of any individuals associated with that file while the matter is under charge assessment.  We do not currently have a timeline for the completion of the assessment.” 

Hit-and-run investigations can be complex say RCMP

In another local hit-and-run death, no information was released by the RCMP for over a year after the hit-and-run incident that resulted in the death of a Parksville man, Spencer Moore, on August 24, 2019.

Photo of Colm Harty displayed as part of roadside memorial at site of hit-and-run incident on First Avenue West in Qualicum Beach, BC on August 28, 2021 that resulted in his death three days later.

According to PQB News, “on Oct. 19, 2020, Oceanside RCMP reported that after a lengthy, complex investigation, they proposed charges to Crown prosecutors against two Parksville Qualicum Beach men,” whose names were published.

“This intricate investigation [into Moore’s death]  illustrates the time it takes to gather sufficient information to propose charges to Crown counsel,” said Sgt. Stephen Rose, acting detachment commander, in a release. “It required a co-ordinated and collaborative effort between the front line officers, traffic services and General Investigation Section at Oceanside. I am very pleased with the concerted efforts of our team that has resulted in charges being laid in this matter.”

We are not aware that any media release has been issued to date by Oceanside RCMP regarding their recommendation of charges in the hit-and-run incident involving Qualicum Beach resident Colm Harty on August 28, 2021. Nor has the name of the driver of the vehicle responsible for this hit-and-run death officially been made public.

The hit-and-run incident that resulted in Colm Harty’s death was very different than the 2019 hit-and-run death of the Parksville man.

The Parksville hit-and-run incident occurred in the wee hours of the morning with few if any witnesses, and no vehicle or driver information. The Qualicum Beach hit-and-run incident occurred in broad daylight on a busy Saturday morning with many witnesses.

More importantly, the alleged driver of the vehicle that struck Colm Harty and continued on without stopping, was apprehended immediately after the incident in the next block by people who had witnessed the incident.

The heroes in this story according to daughter Ellen Harty are the people who were working out as part of a fitness boot camp at a nearby gym. The gym has large windows that look out onto the street. Ellen says their workouts probably “never came in so handy” as they did that day, giving them the ability to pursue the vehicle on foot and catch and stop it in the next block.

Friends and family wonder, with the vehicle and driver’s identity known immediately after the incident and multiple witnesses to this daytime incident, why is this case taking so long to prosecute?

RCMP face criticism in another recent hit-and-run

The RCMP faced strong criticism in their handling of a hit-and-run incident on June 4, 2022 in Mission, BC. A pickup truck was observed by many witnesses to have struck four people participating in an organized walk along Lougheed Highway. Video of the vehicle leaving the scene was also captured.

Several people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. RCMP initially appeared to dismiss this case, claiming that the driver was “just an impatient man.”  After considerable outcry from members of the public and the media, the suspect came forward several days later.

READ-LISTEN CBC story – scroll down to link listen to audio interview with RCMP spokesperson by Stephen Quinn of CBC Radio Vancouver’s The Early Edition

According to a report in the Vancouver Sun on June 11, 2022, Mission RCMP said “the serious crime unit has taken over the ‘complex investigation’…” and “the investigators say they’re committed to bringing recommendations about charges in a thorough and timely manner to help bring answers and healing to those involved in this incident and the wider community…”

Delayed police investigation raises public concerns, fuels speculation about alleged suspect

Qualicum Beach is a small town of 10,000 people and many residents know one another well. While rumours should always be treated with caution, there are legitimate concerns about the driver alleged to have caused Colm Harty’s death, and potential ongoing risk to the public.

Some people have expressed concerns about public safety. Was the driver of the vehicle given a breathalyzer test? Was the vehicle impounded pending the investigation? Is there a risk that the alleged suspect will be involved in a repeat incident? Was the driver still permitted to operate a vehicle? If not, how was that determination made, and by whom and when?

Rumours have been circulating that the alleged suspect had been responsible for the death of another person in a previous vehicle accident. There has also been speculation that the alleged driver has been put under some type of restriction since the death of Colm Harty. None of these rumours have been confirmed.

Family seeks justice for loss of life

Half an hour before he was struck down, Colm Harty gave his wife Judy “the usual 3-point kiss… head-chin-lips,” she said with a slight, sad smile as she recalled the moment. He had been on his way to buy dog food at a pet store, then off to play golf. “He was a healthy, active man,” said Judy.

Colm Harty’s widow Judy Harty believes getting the driver who killed her husband off the road should be a priority. July 13, 2022.

As a young man, Colm Harty emigrated to Canada from Ireland, then moved to the United States after meeting Judy who hails from a small town just outside Boston, Maine. Later, the couple moved to Hamilton, Ontario where they raised their children before retiring to Qualicum Beach.

READ Remembering Colm Harty, an engaged citizen of the world

“We had 51 good years, had a great life,” said Judy. “We both taught school. He was famous for integrating special needs children in the classroom. He worked them into the classroom so they weren’t in a “special class.” The principal of the school would recount how Colm would keep a plastic bucket in the classroom, and he would say to kids [with behavioural problems], ‘here you are, go and kick this bucket around the gym for 10 minutes.’ The parents loved him.”

In an interview for this article in July 2022, Judy spoke about her strong feelings about the crime that ended Colm’s life. “This guy [hit-and-run suspect], I don’t know what they’re going to do with him, but it better be good. I don’t want to say punishment, that sounds bad, but it’s what I mean. You know, a reckoning of what he’s done,” she says in her soft Bostonian accent.

“Getting him off the road should be a major [priority]. I’m not sure if he had not already been taken off the road and is going against what he should have been doing. That’s all the information I have, so it makes me even more fraught. I don’t know. We’ll wait and see, that’s all we can do.”

“I’m really going to miss him… a lot,” she says, struggling to maintain her composure.

Questions linger about medical care

Daughter Ellen Harty says lately she has been thinking back over the circumstances of his death and subsequent medical care.

“I’ve never had any clarity about my dad’s initial care,” she said. “He was obviously horribly injured. I don’t know a lot about how he was cared for. I understand he was sort of conscious, on the ground after being hit. I wonder about his state of mind, how much pain he was in, was he worried?”

“In Nanaimo [hospital] they weren’t able to care for his head injury above and beyond what they had the capacity to deal with. But why put him in an ambulance for that long ride? Can they [not] airlift him?

Ellen Harty, August 9, 2022

“As time goes on,” said Ellen, “I’m starting to wonder about these things. First they brought him down to Nanaimo, and they said, ‘No we can’t help him,’ so they brought him down to Victoria. I mean, it just kind of seems like a lot of travelling for the man, and I kind of wonder about that.”

She continues, “In Nanaimo [hospital] they weren’t able to care for his head injury above and beyond what they had the capacity to deal with. I think the reason was, they told us it was because of the head injury. But why put him in an ambulance for that long ride? Can they [not] airlift him? I don’t know. I’m not a doctor, but why would they drive him down [to Victoria General Hospital] in a rickety old ambulance, you know it’s not a smooth ride. I was only in an ambulance once, from Nanaimo to Victoria, but it was not a comfortable ride.”

It’s a question worth asking. A cyclist badly injured in a recent hit-and-run on the Inland Highway near Parksville was airlifted for medical care. As reported in Victoria Buzz, on Sunday, March 6, 2022, “RCMP says the driver fled the scene and left the victim—a man in his 30s—with serious injuries. He was then flown to hospital by air ambulance, according to a Monday statement from BC Highway Patrol.”

Delta, B.C. family questions police investigation of another deadly collision

On August 15, 2022, CBC reported that “the family of a woman who was killed in a deadly crash on Highway 17A in Delta, B.C. last fall is calling for police to reopen the investigation into the collision, saying the case should have resulted in criminal charges.”

“Joan Sherry, 77, was driving to work when her sedan crashed into the back of a farm vehicle travelling ahead of her on the highway around 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2021. In a statement, the Delta Police Department said officers decided not to recommend criminal charges after a “conversation” with the Crown and did not submit an official report to prosecutors.”

According to the CBC, “The Sherry family requested the final police report through a Freedom of Information request. Their request was initially denied, citing privacy, but was released after the family complained to the privacy commissioner.”

Correction: August 18, 2022 – Colm Harty met his wife Judy in Dublin while she was on holiday, not in the United States as originally reported. Later he joined her in Watertown, Massachusetts where she had grown up and where they married.