Hamilton family struggles to move on after father killed in crash

More than two years after Luigi Stinellis' death, his family is still struggling with the loss. He was hit by a driver who is charged with impaired driving causing death.
Two years later, the Stinellis family - Evelina, Daniela, Donato and Grace - still struggle to make sense of his death. Luigi Stinellis was a flag man on a construction site when he was hit by a van driven by a man who has been charged with impaired driving causing death. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It happened more than two years ago, but the worst moment of Donato Stinellis' life is still fresh in his memory.

He was in the garage of his family home on Templemead Drive making frantic phone calls. His mom, Grace, had received a phone call saying that his dad Luigi had been in an accident. Donato was determined to get more information.

He called the city's emergency rooms. He called emergency services. As he held the phone, a man with a leather clipboard came up the walk.

"Do you live here?" he asked.

"This isn't a good time," Donato told him.

"Do you live here?" the man repeated.

Donato became agitated. "What don't you understand? This isn't a good time."

Grace Stinellis is finally at the point where she can watch family videos. 'It took such a long time before I could hear his voice again,' she says.

The man produced a badge. He was a Hamilton Police Service officer, and he told Donato his father was dead.

Luigi was working as a flag man on a construction site on Nebo Road when he died. It was Nov. 29, 2010, the last day on the site. The 59-year-old had gone home an hour early most of the week because work was slowing down. That day, he didn't.

At about 5:30 p.m., a van crashed through the pylons where Luigi held a sign directing traffic. He died at the scene.

A Simcoe driver is charged with impaired driving causing death.

It's a tragic story — the story of a devastating moment in one family's life, of one crash caused by one alleged impaired driver.

Number of impaired driving-related collisions in Hamilton in 2011: 143

Number of impaired driving-related collisions in 2012: 107

But it's a story that's repeated again and again, for family after family. In the past 10 years in Ontario, more than 2,000 people have died as a result of impaired driving.

In Hamilton, the number of arrests related to drinking and driving hit a 15-year high in 2012.

Still in the courts

For the Stinellis family, the loss is deep — a chasm that has spread through the family, from Grace, Luigi's wife of more than 30 years who still calls him "my sweetheart," to the two grandchildren born since who he will never meet.

The case is still working its way through Ontario courts, so the family can't talk about the specifics. But they can — and do — talk about the man left behind.

They worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada to produce a story that potential donors receive as part of a package in the mail. A banner telling Luigi's story hung at a MADD victim outreach event last year.

It helps to talk about it, said his daughter Daniela, one of the family's three children. And it helps to hear other people say his name.

"When my mom and I saw my dad's banner, it felt like he was there with us," she said. "Every morning we'd go there and say hi to him."

Family man

Born in Abruzzo, Italy, Luigi moved to Canada in his twenties and lived with his sister. She introduced him to the family next door and their daughter Grace, who was charged with showing him around Hamilton. His English was still poor, so their first outing was Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, Grace said.

They fell in love quickly and married later that year. Luigi was a hard worker and determined to be a good provider. He got a job at Canada Ingot Molds and took the long bus journey from the Mountain to Kenilworth Avenue and Burlington Street every day.

Luigi Stinellis, shown at a soccer game, was about a month shy of his 60th birthday. The family was planning a party.

"He never, ever complained or missed a day on the job," Grace said.

Grace became an educational assistant with the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. In 1990, they built their dream home, which was the house on Templemead.

Luigi was a doting father with a soft heart who took his children's troubles to heart.

"If he got mad at us, he would feel guilty," daughter Evelina said. "If we were hurt, he would feel it even more."

He liked soccer and bocce ball, and once coached Donato's provincial rep soccer team. He liked to play cards and watch nature shows, although he'd get upset when the animals died.

"He'd say 'why doesn't the cameraman do anything to help it?'" Evelina said.

An empty driveway

Luigi had worked at Wesroc Construction for about five years when the collision happened.

When Donato came home from work that day, he already found something amiss — he always parked on the right side of the driveway, his dad on the left. The left side was empty.

He walked in the door and heard his mother's worried voice from the other room, hoping the person entering was Luigi.

When the officer arrived, Donato called Evelina, who was entertaining friends at her home a block away. She rushed to the house and heard her brother screaming in anguish outside. Inside, her mother sat with a detective.

Looking back, Evelina realizes that they had heard the sirens going to the scene of her father's death.

"I remember saying to Angelo, my husband, 'There must have been a terrible accident. It's non-stop sirens,'" she said. "Little did we know those sirens were for my father."

Memory kept alive

Around the family's dream home on Templemead, Luigi's memory is kept alive in little ways. A white pillar candle burns constantly in the corner of the dining area, first lit on the week he died. Grace still keeps his watch, glasses and wallet on a shelf in the living room, arranged as if he just took them off.

Each year, the family runs a memorial ad in the local papers.

"Remembering my sweetheart who was killed two years ago today while at work," Grace wrote in the one from November. "Too many innocent people have died because of careless drivers."

Daniela notices the loss most when she attends weddings and the brides dance with their fathers. She can't handle it. She has to leave.

"When my dad died, it was like our lives just stopped," Daniela said. "It's been very hard."

Other stories in the CBC Hamilton impaired driving series: