Sudbury court: Family still recovering from woman's tragic death

'I just want to say, Dawn Ceasar didn't deserve to die'

Sudbury Courthouse

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When Hartley Ceaser finally returned home on Oct. 23, 2018, he was a much different man because of the severe injuries he received in a horrific four-vehicle crash in May of that year.

Hartley could no longer do the things he once did such as cutting his grass and shovelling snow as he had to learn to walk again, attend physiotherapy twice a week and get visits from a personal support worker three times a week.

Hartley also had to do all of that without the company of his wife, Dawn, who died in the crash, the result of a botched suicide attempt.

“On Oct. 23, I returned to an empty home for the first time in 49 years,” he said in his victim impact statement Thursday at the sentencing hearing for Michael Spencer. “My wife and I had a good life together. Tomorrow would have been our 50thwedding anniversary … I just want to say, Dawn Ceaser didn’t deserve to die.”

Four days after arriving home, Hartley attended a funeral for his late wife at the church in Levack he and his wife attended.

“A decision was made that changed my family’s life,” he said.

Hartley said that after the Equinox he was driving collided with Michael Spencer’s pickup truck, he looked in the back seat and saw his wife slouched down, not breathing and not moving.

“I knew she was gone,” he said. “It is an image that is still in my mind.”

Hartley’s victim impact statement was one of almost a dozen read in Thursday during a sentencing hearing for Michael Spencer, who has pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving.

Bev Lang, Dawn’s sister-in-law, said Dawn was a kind and caring woman.
“She was sincere,” said Lang. “We always felt comfortable with her … Dawn was a good, good person.”

Mavis LaCelle, another sister -in-law, said that when Dawn married her brother, “I not only gained a sister-in-law, but a sister … Dawn was a constant in my life that was ripped away from me by a senseless act.”
Nephew Clinton Lahnalampi said his aunt’s death “has left a void in our family” that will be impossible to fill.

“Auntie Dawn would want me to forgive the perpetrator of this crime,” he said. “She is more saintly than I.”

Daughter Nancy Ceaser said she was travelling in a vehicle some distance back of her father’s Equinox following a visit to Massey when traffic slowed due to a motor vehicle accident up ahead. She said that when she learned family members were involved, she drove to Health Sciences North and found her brother who told her “our mom had passed away. It happened suddenly.”

As for their father, Nancy said she then located him.

“The sight of him in such agony, moaning from everything, was torture,” she recalled.

Nancy said her mother was a one-of-a-kind woman.

“Family was important to her and she was like a bonus grandmother to my nieces and nephews,” said the daughter. “She was a well-respected teacher. She was kind, sincere and thoughtful, and had a way of making you feel like you were the most-important person in the world. Her presence is missed in the community …

“When I lost her, I lost my mom and my best friend, the apple of my eye, my mentor, my hero. I just hope we can live the lessons she taught us.”

Nancy said she remains scarred by the accident and what it did to her family.

“No amount of time or counselling has lessened the frequency of the memories I have,” she said.

Son Dr. Jack Ceaser said it was hard on his family when he was recovering in hospital and then basically immobile for weeks on a hospital bed in his home as he healed. He said that as a result of the accident, “arthritis in my right hip is virtually guaranteed” as well as in his right hand and foot.

He is looking at a hip replacement operation in 10 years, cannot play and be active with his two young sons the way he used to, can no longer run which he loved to do, and his lack of income during recovery set family’s finances back several years.

Jack said it hurt him deeply inside “to know my injuries have affected so many people in so many ways” and he was helpless to do anything about it.

“I’m a pretty involved person,” he said, his voice wavering. “(The accident) took away my independence. It made me a burden. It made me less of a father and a husband.”
Jack, who said he returned to work gradually as his mobility returned, said he now cries a lot because of the accident and what it did to him and his family.

Jack also said that when the accident happened, he was so injured he could not move.

“As a physician, I knew (my mother) was dead,” he said. “I felt so helpless in being unable to move and even attempt to help … I never got a last (phone) call with her, never got to say goodbye, never got to tell her how much she meant to me and my family. I will never get to see her or hear her voice again.”

Jack’s wife, Nicole, in her victim impact statement read in friend Erin Todd, said that when her husband was injured and spent weeks recovering in hospital, she had to look after their two boys on her own, as well as deal with insurance claims, her husband’s medical practice and more. The end result was spending most of the day on the telephone and being unable to sleep at night.

“There is overwhelming physical and emotional fatigue,” she said. “It will not stop … I am terrified what the future holds for (Jack). The stress of the last 16 months has left our family exhausted … I feel as if I aged 10 years with a considerable weight on my shoulders.”

Nicole said her eldest son, who is autistic, constantly needs to be around his father and when Jack was in hospital, he missed him immensely and could not sleep alone.

Nicole said her late mother-in-law “was the closest thing to an angel”, even sewing together a wedding gown for her from scratch.

“Dawn Ceaser was the most amazing human being,” said the daughter-in-law. “My heart breaks for every person who has lost a relationship with Dawn Ceaser.”

Twitter: @HaroldCarmichae