Hamilton filmmaker fights after losing leg in collision as SIU investigates

On Sept. 7, Stephen Hayes was walking down the street when a vehicle hit him and destroyed his leg. The province's Special Investigations Unit is investigating the crash. Meanwhile, Hayes's filmmaking peers are fundraising for him.

SIU probing the crash that cost Stephen Hayes his leg, while arts community rallies in support

"People say 'Why is this happening to you?'" says Stephen Hayes. "I'm trying not to think that way." The local filmmaker lost his leg while walking down the street on Sept. 7, when a vehicle in a two-car crash hit him. The Hamilton Film Festival is holding a fundraiser for him. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Stephen Hayes’s surroundings are a little different from what he thought they’d be two months ago.

Life was looking up then. He was moving out of his apartment near Locke Street and into a new condo he’d just bought at 41 Catharine. He’d started dating someone new. His Hamilton-based feature film, Lucky 7, had screened at the market at the Berlin Film Festival in Germany a few months earlier.

Then on Sept. 7, with a sudden squeal of tires, everything changed.

Hayes was struck by a vehicle at Hess Street South and Herkimer Street around 10:30 p.m. According to the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), a police officer tried to stop a silver Honda. When the Honda didn't stop, the officer chased it.

The poster for Lucky 7, written and directed by Stephen Hayes.

The first officer lost sight of the vehicle, but a second officer spotted the Honda and followed, the SIU says. While heading southbound on Hess, the Honda rammed into a black Kia sedan heading eastbound on Herkimer. The Kia hit a bus shelter, and Hayes, who was walking nearby.

Hayes won’t talk about the details of the crash, citing the SIU investigation. But he can talk about how it’s impacted his life.

His leg has been amputated above the knee. He can no longer work at his previous job, or drive. He can’t move into the condo now either. Occupational therapists examined it, and it’s not accessible.

“It was the worst moment of my life,” said Hayes, who also received cracked ribs and a head injury. His leg, he said, was “destroyed.”

Fundraiser for Stephen Hayes

What: Screening of his film Lucky 7

When: Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Staircase Theatre, 27 Dundurn N., Hamilton

Cost: By donation, with all proceeds going to Hayes

His life is in limbo now. He’s been in hospital since the crash and expects to be there until the end of the year. For the time being, he’s in “a bubble.”

'Your whole life changes'

With most ailments, “you go in and are operated on and it hurts, but a few weeks later, everything is going to be mended and better,” he said. “This isn’t going to be.

“Your whole life changes. You’re not going to work on Monday morning.”

Hayes, 50, is a long-time fixture not only in the Hamilton arts scene, but in Ontario's film and television industry.

He’s been a crew member on numerous productions, including The Vow, La Femme Nikita, Mama and Cinderella Man. Locally, he’s been a juror for the Hamilton Film Festival and was long-time host of the CFMU radio show Soundtrack, which featured music from film scores and interviews with local composers.

Two years ago, he sunk his energy and resources into making his own feature-length film, Lucky 7. Shot entirely in Hamilton, it’s film noire in a contemporary Steeltown setting.

Hamilton Film Festival

Nov. 4-10


He doesn’t think he’ll be able to go back to work the way he did before. He’d like to do more writing now. He’s tried in the hospital but he can’t yet. The pain is too much for him to concentrate.

For the time being, he’s kept it to watching films on his laptop computer. They’re mostly comedies — “nothing too serious right now,” he said.

'Creating community and expressing friendship'

Hayes’s fellow film enthusiasts are helping out. During the eighth annual Hamilton Film Festival next month, festival organizers are holding a benefit for Hayes.

They will screen Lucky 7 on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m., and all of the proceeds will go to the award-winning director.

Where he once struggled to make a film, Hayes has a new set of challenges — a wheelchair, a place to live, and if all goes well, a prosthetic leg. But they all cost money.

Hayes is flattered that the Hamilton film community wants to fund raise for him. But he’s more excited about bringing the community together into what he hopes will be a unifying event.

“Something not that wonderful happened to me, and it’s nice to try to turn that negativity around into some kind of positive,” he said. “It’s not about raising money. It’s about creating community and expressing friendship.”

Those who can't attend the benefit but would still like to donate can also do so at hamiltonfilmfestival.com.


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