'It’s a mother’s worst nightmare': fatal ATV crash prompts helmet drive for First Nations communities
A fatal ATV crash is the driving force behind a Manitoba woman’s goal to collect 1000 helmets to promote the safe use of the vehicles in First Nations communities.
“It’s a mother’s worst nightmare,” said Marilyn Courchene, who lives on Sagkeeng First Nation.
Katie Pchajek, a mother of three, crashed the ATV she was riding while trying to serve and avoid hitting a dog. The result was a fractured skull.
“When I heard I went running over with the car and I had to revive her myself. I was trying to do CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” said Courchene. “If she would have worn that helmet, she would have been safe.”
As a legacy to honour her daughter, Courchene has launched the “Katie Wear a Helmet Everyday” campaign. It aims to promote safe ATV use and provide helmets for riders.
Courchene said the initiative has the support of her community, First Nations leaders, and the local police detachment in Powerview-Pine Falls.
However, support will only go so far, according to Courchene. She said there is an increased need for enforcement as she often sees riders without helmets around the community.
Enforcement efforts fall on the shoulders of multiple area organizations, including the RCMP and First Nation safety officers, who enforce band bylaws and provincial statutes, and there is the Off-Road Vehicle Act.
“Our preference right now, and our approach to it is education, but we do have the ability to enforce it through fines,” said Staff Sgt. Jeff Monkman, RCMP detachment commander for Powerview and Bloodvein detachments.
Monkman said enforcement concerns are not limited to Sagkeeng First Nation, with requests for increased enforcement and education efforts coming from all nine local governments in the area. The job, however, is difficult due to the sheer volume of trails and off-road vehicles.
ATV accident data from Manitoba RCMP indicates a significant increase in serious ATV injury collisions in Manitoba in 2020 and 2021 with 36 and 38 cases respectively. In 2019 there were 22 and just seven in 2018.
The data also shows an individual was not wearing a helmet in about 30 per cent of all the serious or fatal ATV accidents.
Courchene’s initiative is still in its infancy, but donations are starting to come in. She hopes to get expanded helmet distribution through organizations like the Bear Clan in Winnipeg. With an ambitious goal of 1,000 helmets, she hopes to partner with an off-road vehicle company to be able to buy in bulk.
She also hopes the initiative will grow beyond the boundaries of her own community to include other First Nations in Canada.
“These kids go like 100 miles an hour sometimes and they’re thinking they’re immune to accidents,” said Courchene. “If you want to do that kind of transportation, be safe at all times.”