An 80-year-old double amputee who relies on a motorized wheelchair to get around says he's sorry for striking Elinor Sheehan last August.

Norman Tuplin ran into the 92-year-old Sheehan in the historic Saint John City Market.

"She looked up at me," said Norman Tuplin, recalling the moment when he pinned her under his chair. "I didn't think she was hurt that bad or anything," he said.

Tuplin was interviewed by police after Sheehan was taken to hospital. There, it was determined she had broken ribs and whiplash and other injuries.

Two months later, she died in hospice.


Elinor Sheehan, 92, was badly injured in August when she was struck in the city market by Norman Tuplin, an 80-year-old amputee who depends on a wheelchair for mobility. She died two months later. (Submitted by Marykate Sheehan)

"They asked me if I meant to hit her, half a dozen times, and I said, 'No, I didn't. I don't mean to hit anybody."

Tuplin first declined to be interviewed about the incident but later asked the CBC for another opportunity to tell his side of the story.

He said he didn't remember seeing Sheehan before he struck her, midday, as she was walking to Slocum and Ferris for lunch.

He  thinks it's possible that he incorrectly hit the button on the hand control and in doing so, may have caused the wheelchair motor to step into higher gear and a higher speed.

He said after knocking Sheehan down, he struggled to put the chair into reverse.

The police investigation may have ended without criminal charges being laid, but Marykate Sheehan says her mother's death was preventable.


Elinor Sheehan was going to lunch in the City Market when she was struck by a motorized wheelchair. (CBC)

"What rules are in place, in crowded situations, so that everybody's safe?" asked Sheehan, who saw the collision on video, as captured by a surveillance camera.

Daughter viewed video of accident

Sheehan said the images show her mother walking down the side aisle when she gets run over from behind.

"He kept coming and he could see her," said Sheehan.

"And I'm like, "Brakes! Brakes ! Veer! Do anything!"

Sheehan said she was mortified to see that Tuplin appeared to take no evasive action whatsoever.

"And I'm like, 'My God, he hit her!'" Sheehan said her mother was plowed off her feet and then pinned on the floor against the counter of the Slocum and Ferris store.


There were no charges laid after an investigation by Saint John police in the death of Elinor Sheehan. (Submitted by Marykate Sheehan)

She says three bystanders tried to pry the wheelchair off the elderly woman's body but it took an agonizingly long time.

"She had three broken ribs. She had a gash to her leg. A broken metatarsal on her foot and whiplash to her neck," she said.

Elinor Sheehan was taken to hospital by ambulance and treated there for several weeks.

She was later transferred to Bobby's Hospice, where she died Oct. 16, two months after the Aug. 14 incident.

Saint John police say they investigated thoroughly.

Ed Ferren told CBC News he was interviewed as a witness. He said he told police the man was driving "at quite a clip."

The file was sent to the prosecutor's office for review, but Saint John Police Sgt. Lori McGee said the Crown determined there was insufficient evidence to support proceeding with a criminal charge.

"The incident was a very unfortunate and tragic accident," replied McGee in an email.

'Market must do something'

Anne-Marie Mullin says the city and market management must do something to reduce the risk of wheelchairs colliding with seniors and children.

Mullin says she was struck by Tuplin four years ago, while she was walking in the market.

She says his wheelchair cut into her leg and left her bleeding and she still has the scar.

"He should have known, with the people around, to take it easy," she said.

"But he didn't."

"I really think he should not be allowed in the market."

The city says there's no policy in place to regulate the use of motorized wheelchairs in the Saint John City Market.

"Efforts are made to provide citizens and visitors operating motorized wheelchairs with access to the City Market and there are several people who use such mobility devises that visit the Market," wrote Lisa Caissie, in an email.

"Any complaint would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis."

New policies suggested

Marykate Sheehan says it's time to introduce new policies in response to an aging population whose citizens will be increasingly in need of wheelchairs and also, increasingly vulnerable, if struck by them.

"Was he in control of his vehicle? Did he have the right reflexes to operate this vehicle?" she asks, during an interview in the her late mother's living room.

Elinor Sheehan's funeral service at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception was attended by hundreds of people.

More than 650 printed programs quickly disappeared into the crowd, long before people stopped streaming in.

Some attendants received a playful copy of "Elinor's Rules to Live By."

"Don't be critical of others," said rule Number Five.

"You never know what troubles they may be experiencing."

Sheehan says her mother would not have been harsh against Tuplin, nor judgemental.

But she feels he was driving without regard for the safety of others and that was wrong.