Toronto

This young father was killed in a hit and run in Toronto. Now his family is speaking out.

It's been one year since Asim Siddiqui died following a hit and run near a busy intersection in Toronto, leaving his now seven-year-old son without a father. His family wants to make sure his name isn't forgotten and will hold a vigil Monday.

Asim Siddiqui was among 39 pedestrians killed last year. His family doesn't want his death to be in vain.

It's been one year since Asim Siddiqui died after a hit and run near a busy intersection in Toronto, leaving his seven-year-old son without a father. (Submitted by Siddiqui family)

A few months before the cold January day when his life was cut short, one of Asim Siddiqui's colleagues rushed into the office shaken, saying she'd nearly been run over on her way in.

Siddiqui, a consultant at a bank branch in North York at the time, immediately called city services to flag the dangers of vehicles speeding through the busy intersection at Lawrence Avenue West and Marlee Avenue.

"Someone's going to die there," his sister remembers him saying.

No one could have guessed it would be him.

On Jan. 16, 2019, Siddiqui was killed by a large dump truck while walking to a nearby subway station. His sister, Shona Siddiqui, says her brother waited for the pedestrian signal and was walking at a marked crosswalk in broad daylight at 1 p.m., when a truck making a right turn onto Lawrence Avenue smashed into him and drove off.

Siddiqui, 40, was pronounced dead in hospital — robbing his then six-year-old son of a father and changing the lives of his four sisters and elderly parents forever.

'He was the spark in our family'

"He was a spark in our family," Shona said, describing her brother as a shining light who was the main caregiver for their cancer-stricken mother, and who rallied the family together for reunions and who was always bursting with energy.

"He was willing to do anything and everything for his little boy and it breaks our heart[s] that [he] lost an amazing father," a GoFundMe page set up for Siddiqui says.

Siddiqui's name never made the papers.

His death was the among the first of 39 pedestrians killed in 2019, a number that's sat more or less stagnant for the last seven years. In 2014, there were 31 pedestrian deaths, but that number spiked to 44 in 2016 before dropping 37 the next year.

Asim Siddiqui was killed by a large dump truck while walking to a nearby subway station in the Lawrence Avenue West and Marlee Avenue intersection last year. (Louisa Lau/CBC)

It's a problem Toronto city council hopes to address through its Vision Zero 2.0 plan, which includes a street-by-street approach to lowering speed limits on a number of arterial road sections across the city — an approach many road safety advocates have criticized as not going far enough.

As Siddiqui lay dying in the roadway, a woman the family would come to know of later happened to be driving toward the intersection. It was a route she normally didn't take. But as she approached and realized someone was hurt, she quickly launched into action, stopping her car and grabbing some blankets from it to cover him.

She stayed there holding Siddiqui until emergency crews arrived. 

Siddiqui's family didn't find out about that kind stranger right away. His mother agonized for weeks that her son was by himself and afraid in his final moments, that he died alone in the cold.

Much more to be done to prevent deaths, family says

It turns out the Good Samaritan had written a letter for the family that she left with police, who delivered it to Siddiqui's relatives a few months after his death. She left her phone number inside.

When the family got in touch, they learned Siddiqui had an "angel" by his side, as his sister put it. "He wasn't alone in those last moments."

It was the news his mother needed to feel some measure of comfort after her son was ripped away from her.

We aren't doing those things because it's incorrectly perceived as being a war on the car. ​​​​​​- Jessica Spieker

But without the city sending a strong zero-tolerance message to drivers, says Shona, there can be no real comfort.

The Siddiqui family has found support through Toronto-based road safety advocacy group Friends and Families for Safe Streets, which has called for more serious penalties for dangerous driving, lower speed limits and better enforcement of safety laws.

"Unfortunately, in Toronto we aren't doing those things because it's incorrectly perceived as being a war on the car. So it becomes political kryptonite to our elected leaders," said Jessica Spieker, a member of the group.

Spieker herself was seriously injured in 2015 when she was struck by a woman driving a SUV, breaking her spine and leaving her with a brain injury.

For advocate Jessica Spieker of Friends and Families for Safe Streets, Vision Zero 2.0 doesn't go far enough. (Angelina King/CBC)

Spieker believes Siddiqui's death could have been prevented through a number of measures: fewer lanes to reduce the risk to pedestrians crossing and forcing tighter turns with curbs or barriers that would require drivers to manoeuvre more slowly, among other possibilities.

'Robbed' of a future

The group believes the disbanding of a traffic enforcement team that had been active from 2003 to 2012 is also to blame for an increase in crashes and preventable deaths.

It also believes the provincial and federal governments have roles to play as well in upping fines and demerit points and requiring trucks to have sideguards to keep pedestrians from ending up underneath them, for example. 

Shona says she's been told a man in his 30s was charged with careless driving and failure to yield at a marked crosswalk, and will likely not face any jail-time for her brother's death.

Since the driver was a first-time offender, she says she's been told the driver will likely face a $1,000 fine along with six months probation with some driving restrictions attached.

Asim Siddiqui pictured with his elderly father and mother on her birthday. His mother is terminally ill and couldn't leave home, so Siddiqui surprised her by bringing a birthday cake home to her. (Submitted by Siddiqui family)

The family is holding a vigil with the group on Monday to shine a light on the human toll of dangerous driving and to call for more action by the city and police.

"Asim and his family were cruelly robbed of a bright and loving future together," Friends and Families for Safe Streets said in a tweet.

"How many deaths of innocent, beloved people like this will it take?

With files from Jasmin Seputis

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