Ottawa family recounts horror of hitting moose: 'Then we looked behind us and saw what had happened'
OTTAWA -- An Ottawa family is praying for the recovery of their little girl while they make plans to bury their son. 5-year-old Zackaël Flintoff died when the family's car struck a moose earlier this month.
His 2-year-old sister Adélie suffered a brain injury.
It was a freak accident in the middle of the day in an area where moose aren't normally found. The family even saw the moose and stopped for it. But a car travelling the other way struck it, flinging the 500-kilogram animal through the roof of their car.
Now, one child is dead, a little one struggling to survive and the oldest of the three is traumatized by what he's seen.
As they hug inside a private room at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Carl Flintoff and Brigitte Lehoux try to find strength in each other, gripping tight to the grief they know will come. For now, though, they are trying to reign in their emotions as they rally at their daughter's bedside.
“Either of the two situations would be difficult on their own,” says Flintoff, “but trying to juggle all at the same time? So, it's tough.”
The family was driving Highway 323 in West Quebec a couple Sundays ago after taking the boys, 5-year-old Zackaël and 8-year-old Maxandre, to hockey. It was a clear, bright afternoon. They were headed, in their minivan, to their cottage near Tremblant when they spotted a moose.
“All we needed to do was to be five seconds ahead or behind of where we were,” says Flintoff, “or gone on a different day and none of this wouldn't have happened. That's what makes this so hard to understand because so many things had to conspire to be in that moment at that time.”
The Flintoffs stopped for the moose, which was across the road from them but the car travelling the other way couldn't. It slammed into the moose and sent the animal flying at their minivan.
“We both ducked and our windshield shattered,” Flintoff explains, “and we were having the thought, thinking that we're okay somehow. The windshield is gone but we're okay. Then we looked behind us saw what had happened.”
Maxandre appeared to be unhurt. Zackaël, sitting beside him, clearly wasn't.
“Zackaël was in the safest part of the car,” says Lehoux, “the middle, middle of the car so to have an animal squeeze you from the roof is just….”
It seemed an eternity, in this rural part of Quebec, for first responders to arrive.
“I feel I didn't know what to do,” Lehoux continues, “Zackaël was dying and I didn't know what to do.”
Flintoff says he took Zackaël out of the van and says it didn’t look good for him.
“For Zackaël, from what I saw, I'm not sure anything could have saved him.”
As for 2-year-old Adélie, Flintoff says the hat she was wearing was found on the highway with moose hair on it.
“Adélie had a lot of swelling in her,” he says, “She still has a lot of swelling in her brain. There are still a lot of unknowns, a lot of uncertainty but we have started to have a few little signs of progress, so we are hopeful.”
And so, the family waits at their little girl's bedside while they plan the funeral for their son this Saturday. They are remembering Zackaël’s love for hockey.
“Zackaël’s favorite color was green so everyone on his team was wearing green laces on their skates,” says Flintoff, explaining the game Maxandre attended this weekend.
But what they will miss most, they explain, are their son’s wrap-around, love-you-to-bits hugs.
“Just to think he's not there in the morning when you start your day” says Lehoux, “is really hard.”
They've had some glimmers of hope about their daughter. She's been opening her eyes a little bit. They're holding on to that hope and to the support of family and friends. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $43,000.