11-year-old in medically induced coma after being struck by SUV

Eleven-year-old Leila Bui remained in hospital in a medically induced coma on Thursday, a day after being hit by a vehicle while in a crosswalk in front of her Saanich home.

The crash has upset neighbours who say they’ve long raised concerns to the District of Saanich about the need for lower speed limits or a four-way stop at the intersection.

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Leila, a student at Arbutus Middle School, has not regained consciousness since she was hit by an eastbound SUV at the intersection of Ash Road and Torquay Drive, her grandfather Andy Bui said.

“She’s still in a coma,” he said.

X-rays are being taken to determine if she suffered brain or spinal damage, Bui said.

Leila has had surgery to limit internal bleeding but doctors are concerned about swelling in her brain, he said.

“I didn’t sleep last night,” he said, adding that Leila's parents spent the night at Victoria General Hospital.

Leila was crossing the street about 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday to get to a neighbour’s home for a ride to school when she was struck. The impact sent her flying through the air. She hit the ground and slid into the path of a westbound sedan, which was stopped at the time, said Saanich police crash analyst Sgt. Alan Gurzinski.

Bui heard the impact, looked out his front window and ran to Leila, who was prone on the road. He clutched her hand until B.C. Ambulance paramedics arrived.

“I can’t believe this happened to my family. It’s very bad,” said Bui, who was in tears. “I hope she will recover.”

Leila has two sisters, Quynh-Lan, 13, and Myla, 8, and a brother, Jace, 5.

A Saanich police investigation team was on scene for hours collecting evidence. Police are looking for more witnesses, Gurzinski said. The drivers of the two vehicles gave statements to police. The crash investigation could take months, he said.

Andy Bui and several neighbours have complained about drivers speeding well beyond the 50 km/h speed limit on Ash, which is interrupted by few stop signs.

Joanne Chambers, who has lived on Ash for seven years, said she has twice raised concerns with Saanich about traffic volume and speed, once to the engineering department in 2012 and once through a letter to council in 2015. To her frustration, both of her requests for speed-reduction measures were rebuffed.

“Saanich has not been receptive to any requests to lowering the speed limit or other traffic-calming measures such as a four-way stops or traffic circles,” Chambers said. “I said to my husband: ‘They’re not going to do anything until somebody get badly hurt or killed and, unfortunately, it’s happened.”

According to ICBC, there were six crashes at the intersection between 2012 and 2016, four of which resulted in an injury to someone in the car. None of the crashes involved pedestrians.

Peter Smith, who lives in the 1600-block of Ash, said he has witnessed and helped the victims of several serious crashes at the intersection over the last decade.

“The road has become a high-speed and uncontrolled commuter corridor,” Smith said in an email.

“Eastbound driver visibility is impacted by the road’s sharp uphill rise and by sunlight, [and] northbound drivers on Torquay have trouble seeing past or through the arbutus trees, creating uncertainty as they navigate across Ash.”

Smith said the road is always populated with students walking to school, dog walkers, hikers, tourists, cyclists and skateboarders. He said frequent deer-crossings increase the potential for crashes.

Leslie Machan said she has lived on Ash near Torquay for 12 years and has complained to Saanich about speeding cars.

“My sister was nearly struck down at least three times this past summer due to speeding cars that refused to either slow down or stop for a pedestrian in the middle of the crosswalk,” she wrote in a letter to the Saanich engineering department. Machan called for a four-way stop at Ash and Torquay and other safety improvements.

Residents took their longstanding concerns about the intersection to the Gordon Head Residents Association in November, said association president Chris Poirier-Skelton. Members analyzed traffic patterns and after a board meeting in December, drafted a letter to the District of Saanich’s engineering department. The letter was sent on Sunday, three days before the collision.

“Maybe there’s something we can do here,” Poirier-Skelton said. “It’s unfortunate it has to be done after an incident has happened.”

Saanich’s administrative traffic committee, which includes engineering staff and Saanich police, will meet in January to review the intersection, said district spokeswoman Megan Catalano. Saanich has also been gathering feedback from thousands of residents about all methods of transportation as part of work on the municipality’s Active Transportation Plan.

“We are in the process of evaluating and trying to prioritize many of those requests for safety improvements in Saanich,” Catalano said.

Smith said the “time for review and serious action is long past. Saanich staff and council have failed not only in managing the intersection but also in protecting the road’s residential status.”

Bui and Smith want to see the speed limit reduced to 30 km/h, and a four-way stop installed with pedestrian crossing lights. Smith also wants to see the arbutus trees removed to improve visibility.

“I hope they will change this intersection,” Bui said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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