‘That’s a joke’: Ontario man reacts as driver faces $2,000 fine in near-fatal collision

WATCH ABOVE: OPP say tires flew off two vehicles travelling on highways in the Greater Toronto Area Tuesday. As Catherine McDonald reports, it brings back horrible memories for a couple injured by a flying tire six months ago who have now learned the other driver has been charged.

Benjamin Schenk’s life was changed forever in May as he drove along Highway 400 south of Barrie.

He and his wife Bella De Bartolo were on their way to a family cottage for the Victoria Day long weekend when a tire flew off a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction and crashed into their car.

The tire went through their windshield and Schenk — suffering from critical injuries — had to be airlifted to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

De Bartolo was brought to a Barrie hospital suffering from minor injuries.

The vehicle Schenk and De Bartolo were travelling in.
The vehicle Schenk and De Bartolo were travelling in. Twitter / @OPP_HSD

Schenk has spent the last six months recovering from the collision, including being in a coma on a ventilator for four weeks. He returned home from the hospital in October, but the recovery continues.

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“I’ve had to go on leave, a leave of absence, because he needs help,” De Bartolo said.

On Tuesday, Schenk and De Bartolo learned that a man had been charged in connection with the collision. Ontario Provincial Police said a 66-year-old Port Sydney man was charged under the Highway Traffic Act with having detached parts.

The wife of a Toronto man critically injured by a flying tire on Highway 400 shares their story
The wife of a Toronto man critically injured by a flying tire on Highway 400 shares their story

The charge carries a maximum fine of $2,000 for passenger vehicles.

“I feel like that’s a joke,” Schenk told Global News Tuesday after learning of the charge.

“That’s nothing.”

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“I’m just really confused as to how the victim has their life totally uprooted … everything for us is completely upside down, and that’s all that happens to the person,” De Bartolo said.

“Maybe their insurance goes up, I don’t know, but I think that that’s so backwards.”

Global News asked Sgt. Kerry Schmidt about the charge on Tuesday.

“The outcome of this situation is absolutely devastating for that family. In terms of what we can do to support them, that’s what the provisions are in the Highway Traffic Act and that is all we’re able to do in that situation,” he said.

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READ MORE: Wife of man critically injured by flying tire on Hwy. 400 speaks out about vehicle safety

News of the charge came as two vehicles lost tires on GTA highways on Tuesday, sending a person to hospital.

The charge of having detached parts has been laid in each of those incidents.

De Bartolo said she wants to see stiffer penalties put in place for drivers who have tires fall off their vehicles.

“If the penalty was greater, maybe people would be a little bit more careful and considerate of where they change their tires (and) if their tires are appropriate to be on the road yet,” she said.

READ MORE: Tires fly off 2 vehicles on GTA highways Tuesday, bounce into oncoming lanes: OPP

De Bartolo also expressed frustration at how long it took for charges to be laid in connection with May’s incident. Schmidt said he was unaware of what was behind the delay.

Schenk said he now goes to therapy three times a week, sees support workers, and has a dietitian.

He said he hopes drivers will simply get their tires checked and ensure their vehicles are in good working order to prevent anyone else from getting hurt.

“It doesn’t matter what type of car it is. Get your car checked to make sure it can’t happen,” he said.

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— With files from Catherine McDonald