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'No other life taken': Mother leads ATV helmet drive to honour daughter's legacy

Katie Pchajek drives her family's ATV in an undated photo taken in Sagkeeng First Nation. (Marilyn Courchene) Katie Pchajek drives her family's ATV in an undated photo taken in Sagkeeng First Nation. (Marilyn Courchene)

A grieving mother is hosting a helmet drive in the hopes of protecting children on Manitoba First Nations from a similar tragedy that killed her daughter.

Marilyn Courchene’s daughter Katie Pchajek died on Sept. 1, 2021, after an ATV collision on Sagkeeng First Nation, about 120 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Courchene said she was driving home in her vehicle that day after picking up dinner when she passed her daughter on Highway 11.

“I don't know what prompted her to take the quad that day, but she was going down the road past the school to go see a neighbour,” Courchene recalled.

Courchene drove home, and waited for her daughter to eat dinner. When Pchajek didn’t return, Courchene called her cell phone. There was no answer.

She eventually heard from a neighbour that Pchajek had been in an accident.

Courchene drove back down the highway to find the ATV her daughter was driving stopped in the middle of the road, with Pchajek lying in the ditch.

“She had swerved to avoid hitting a dog,” Courchene recalled.

Katie Pchajek is shown in an undated image. She died Sept. 1, 2021 after falling from the ATV she was driving on Sagkeeng First Nation. (Marilyn Courchene)

She called 911, and performed CPR on her daughter until help arrived.

Pchajek was airlifted to hospital, but died soon after.

“I didn't know I was going to lose my daughter that day. I didn't know what was happening. It was trauma that affected me,” Courchene said.

Pchajek was a mother of three who subbed at the local school and owned a flourishing catering business. She loved animals, and volunteered at a local dog rescue.

“It all happened because she wasn’t wearing a helmet. This is what happens,” Courchene said.

Most young patients with ATV injuries in 2024 weren’t wearing helmets: Shared Health

A spokesperson for Shared Health tells CTV News Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre Children’s Emergency Department has already treated seven ATV injuries this year in patients between the ages of five and 17 years old.

Only two of those patients were wearing helmets, the spokesperson said.

And from 2019 to 2023, the emergency department treated over 340 children and youth with ATV injuries.

Meantime, RCMP data from 2023 shows there were five fatal collisions involving ATVs, none of which involved helmets. There were also 12 serious injury collisions that year without helmets worn.

Already this year, there have been four serious injury collisions involving ATVs – half involved helmets.

A teenager rides an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) at a cottage on Coon Lake near Lakefield, Ont., Aug. 3, 2009. (Richard Buchan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘The helmet is the most important thing’

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Courchene has launched a helmet drive in the hopes of supplying them to kids living on Manitoba First Nations who have financial barriers to accessing them.

“The helmets are between the range of $160 to $300," Courchene explained.

"Some parents really can’t afford them. Yes, they buy quads, but sometimes they don’t understand the safety behind that quad, that the helmet is the most important thing when you buy one.”

Anyone interested in donating can contact Courchene by email.

She has also collaborated with the local RCMP detachment and the Sagkeeng Health Centre to spread awareness about ATV safety.

“I'm hoping to at least help protect the safety of the kids, that there's no other life taken.”

Katie Pchajek is shown in an undated family portrait with two of her children. (Marilyn Courchene) Top Stories

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