Natalie White has a wound that will never heal.
Her 19-year-old son was killed in a motorcycle accident two years ago and White says the loss still fills her with a numbing pain that will never go away.
She’s been waiting since then to find out the details of what actually happened in the accident.
White’s son Andrew Futerko died June 20, 2018 when his motorcycle collided with an SUV on 181A Street at the 61B Avenue intersection.
But in the ensuing court case, a stay of proceedings was entered and the case never went to trial. With no court hearing, White said, the family was denied closure, with no opportunity to hear the driver’s account of the event, and whether he had any regrets to express.
White had always wanted to hear from the other driver, to find out what happened and to help her find some closure.
What White didn’t know was the other driver was desperate to find some closure too.
When White reached out in early June in an effort to contact the other driver, that driver, Johnny Forrest was thankful.
“When I saw that article in the Cloverdale Reporter, it made my day,” said Forrest, a Cloverdale resident. “She showed compassion toward me. I wanted to find some closure as well.”
White and Forrest finally got that closure when they met just days before the two-year anniversary of Andrew’s death.
“Can I give you a hug?” White asked, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I wanted to do this two years ago,” Forrest replied, as the two embraced. “For me this is closure too. I wanted to show you some compassion and love. I can’t thank you enough.”
Forrest and White met in the common room of White’s complex.
“I wanted you to know that I don’t blame you,” said White.
“I’ve never been the same,” Forrest said, his thick Scottish accent muffled underneath a facemask. “Ever since then, I can’t go on that road anymore.”
Forrest expressed his “deepest regrets” for what had happened that day and explained to White how he saw the crash unfold.
“I was taking my granddaughter home and I was making a left-hand turn,” remembered Forrest, now 85. “I could see your son coming up the road and I says, ‘Boy! He’s a-movin.’ You know?”
Forrest said he was stopped, waiting for Futerko to pass when Forrest’s granddaughter cried out, “Papa John, his handlebars are wobbling.”
That’s when Forrest said Futerko’s bike changed course and collided head on with Forrest’s bumper.
Forrest said he then did something he shouldn’t have. He said his granddaughter was screaming and he had to get her out of there.
“I reversed my car, went way back, and then around, and parked my car on the side road,” he explained.
Forrest said the crash affected his heart and he had to get a heart valve replaced.
“I’ll never get over it,” Forrest added.
The two talked a lot about the facts of the accident. White wondered about all the little details of the collision and everything that led up to it.
She kept wondering what – if anything – could have gone differently that day, or in those final moments, and changed the outcome of her son’s life. What could have prevented him from being on that road at that precise instant? What minor thing could have altered his final moments and given Andrew more time?
“He had a lot on his mind that day,” explained White. “His brain was elsewhere. He was supposed to go to grad that night with a girl and he cancelled on her.”
White said Andrew had spoken with the girl just before the crash and had told her he would call her when he got home.
“I feel like he was probably thinking about that and not paying attention to the road.”
White said the last two years have been very hard for her. She keeps little reminders of Andrew around because she’s scared of losing precious memories. She has a locket with a picture of her and her son and she has his name tattooed on her arm. She’s getting another tattoo June 20 of some artwork Andrew made when he was a little boy.
She said she didn’t go to the spot where Andrew died until a month after the accident.
White said many have tried to comfort her by telling her it was just an accident. But White said if she views it as an accident, she will just want to assign blame and that will make her angry.
“I do believe, 100 per cent, that that was his day,” said White, choking back tears. “That’s what I have to believe in my heart. Or else, the only other thing is to blame you – or him. Or me for allowing him to ride that bike. I didn’t want him to ride that thing and I didn’t know how to stop him. I beat myself up every day about that.”
“This is how I’ve gotten my peace,” White added, eeking out her words through tears. “I wanted to try to share that with you: that was his day.”
“That date’s gonna be in my head the rest of my life,” said Forrest. “I’m like you. I’m trying to heal too and get over the shock of it. It was a shock!” he exclaimed.
“I will never be the same person,” Forrest added. “I’m trying to heal, but I never will because I was part of that tragic situation.”
As White and Forrest conversed, they discovered that White’s dad grew up in Scotland – not far from where Forrest had grown up. (White subsequently passed along Forrest’s phone number to her father in Ontario and the two had a long chat about life and Scotland.)
And they talked about Andrew.
“He was a funny character. I’d love to show you some videos of him, if we can meet again,” said White. “When he was happy.”
White shared that Andrew loved playing video games and he was a big practical joker. She said he played rugby and had gone to Scotland on a rugby tour in his senior year of high school at Lord Tweedsmuir.
“I don’t think he cared too much about rugby,” laughed White. “I think he just wanted to go on the trip. (Laughs again). I seriously think that.”
White told Forrest that Andrew also played rugby because he loved his rugby coach, Tweedsmuir teacher Jamie Overgaard.
“If it wasn’t for Jamie – in high school – I don’t know what would have become of my son,” she said. “That man loved my boy and he gave him love and guidance. And my son was not an easy boy to deal with. He was a hard kid to handle, but he was a good kid. He was different. Jamie took a shine to him.”
White said Overgaard had the idea to start a fundraiser in Andrew’s name. So they started the Esta Bueno Rugby Fundraiser. The fundraiser helps Grade 12 rugby players at Lord Tweedsmuir by offsetting costs for overseas rugby tours. (The third annual event will be held at Cloverdale’s Beaver Lodge sometime in the fall.)
“At the first fundraiser, I thanked Jamie for loving my boy and he said that’s why he’s a teacher, to be there for boys like mine.”
White said when Andrew was in Grade 11 he also went on a rugby tour to Smith Falls, Ont.
“My parents live there and they got to see him play,” said White. “They normally wouldn’t have been able to see him play.”
White said Andrew scored the winning try in one of the games and made it into the Smith Falls paper.
White added that it may seem strange, but she thinks there’s a reason Andrew died on 181A Street.
“That was Andrew’s route – obviously he took it that day – but he grew up on that street. He walked on that road. He rode a bicycle on that road. He learned to drive on that road. And he died on that road.
“That road has so many memories. I feel like that road was at the heart of who he was.”
— with a file from Dan Ferguson.