Dan Winnick

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Dan Winnick
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Age: 25

E 8th and Quebec St.
Vancouver , BC

 From: We Vancouver

COVER STORY: Sudden Impact


A run-in with a car last July 21 ended Dan Winnick's
life and altered those of his loved one's forever. Here, Dan Winnick
with friend Aaron Weiss ride bikes in Calgary during last summer's Sled
Island Music Festival.

Jenna Slade

It’s easy to miss the memorial at the intersection of East Eighth Avenue and Quebec Street.

In passing, the lone bicycle looks like someone’s long
abandoned ride, the missing tires perhaps stripped by opportunistic

But look closely at the stark, white road bike and
you’ll notice that a nameplate welded to the frame bears the name
Winnick. Linger a little longer and you’ll see the stencils on each of
the intersection’s four corners: Wear Your Bike Helmet and You Are Loved
And Missed Dan.

It’s easy to zip past roadside memorials, the crosses,
wilted bouquets, grimy teddy bears and ghost bikes that dot our
roadways, without giving them a second thought. Easy to dismiss the
accidents as a byproduct of living in an urban environment; inevitable
occurrences so common they get only two or three lines in the newspaper —
if that.

But for every fatality that flits in and out of public
consciousness, there’s the story of a life cut short, often by an
arbitrary confluence of factors that, given a split-second’s difference,
would not have conspired to end a life.

In the case of 25-year-old Dan Winnick, it’s easier
still to shrug off the accident as the case of a dumb kid who did a dumb
thing. But Dan Winnick was anything but a dumb kid. He was a beloved
son and brother, the epicentre of his group of dozens of close Vancouver
friends, with scores more friends back home in Calgary.

When he collided with the car at nine minutes to
midnight on July 21, 2010, he made a tragic error in judgement. One
bolstered by a sense of invincibility common to many in their 20s. And
though accidents like Dan’s are rare (police say he was the only cyclist
fatality in Vancouver in the last few years), his death a month later
was far from an isolated incident. A year after the accident, those who
knew him are still struggling to make sense of the world in his absence.


Dan's moustache and glasses (left) were part of his signature look.



Penny and Jim Winnick always got a kick out of how
their sons, Dan and Nick, were like night and day. The boys loved each
other but approached the world from opposite ends. Nick, three years
Dan’s senior, was the cautious observer; he’d want to stay inside and
watch the snow fall, says Penny. He’d walk around the puddles on the

Dan liked to get his hands dirty — he’d charge through
the puddles, roll around in the snow. He’d want all the toppings on his
ice cream sundae.

But when it came to his relationships Dan was caring,
empathetic and sensitive, qualities his friends say made you feel like
you’d known him forever at the first meeting. He had a preternatural
wisdom Penny often marvelled at; she loved being in the room when her
youngest was formulating ideas — he’d carefully consider all sides of an
issue. “When Dan was really thinking it was like you were listening to
his soul speak,” she says.

Dan studied journalism for a year and wrote about music
for Beatroute magazine but wasn’t ready to settle into a career. He
moved to Vancouver in 2008 to take a carpentry course.

This city’s reputation for cold social reception was no
match for his natural warmth and charisma. Almost instantly, Dan wormed
his way to the centre of a tight-knit group of East Van denizens,
mostly creative types into tattoos, garage rock, beer-league softball
and long bike rides through town.

He became best friends with Matt Hagarty, a fellow
Calgarian whose rundown rental on East 10th avenue was the group’s
unofficial clubhouse. They called it The Kingdom. Dan lived across the

Known for his aviator sunglasses, blonde moustache and
extensive collection of flashy footwear, Dan had a signature style
reminiscent of a trendy high school guidance counsellor. It fit his
personality. People sought him out with their problems and confessions
because he always seemed to have something helpful to say. A month
before the accident, Dan got his first real tattoo. It was a sheriff’s
badge, a riff on the movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly he shared with
two other friends. Each bore the part of the title that related to him.
Dan, naturally, was The Good.

At the encouragement of friends, Dan had planned to
take some counselling courses last fall. But for the summer he was
taking it easy, working as a cabinet-maker spending every spare moment
with Matt and another friend, Aaron Weiss. On a typical day, the trio
would ride out to Third Beach or Jericho, maybe check out some music at
the Media Club or the Anza. Dan was on his way there when the accident


Friends have set up a memorial at Quebec and Eighth.



The intersection at Quebec and Eighth can be a tricky
one. Close to the bike routes on Ontario Street and 10th Avenue,
cyclists often use Eighth as a secondary route. There’s a stop sign
there, but the parked cars on Quebec can obscure the view for even
rule-abiding cyclists. A lot, though, just whiz right through.

It’s hard to say how many times Dan Winnick had sailed
through that intersection without incident. Harder still to know exactly
what happened in the moments before he hit the white Oldsmobile heading
up Quebec towards Broadway. He might have been racing, which he often
did on his road bike. He might have been looking back over his shoulder
to check on his friends.

He was definitely going fast, definitely blew the stop
sign and definitely t-boned the car with considerable force, flying over
the his handlebars and into the car’s rear driver-side doors. He wasn’t
wearing a helmet, he almost never did.

According to the police report, Dan sustained
“devastating and catastrophic injuries to his head, skull and back.”
Those same adjectives apply to the ripple effect the accident had on
virtually everyone who knew him.

No phone call in the middle of the night is a good one.
Penny and Jim knew something was wrong as soon as the phone rang at
1:30 a.m., Alberta time. Dan’s number showed up on the call display but
it was Aaron on the phone. There’d been a bike accident. Dan was hurt.
They should get in touch with Vancouver General Hospital.

“When you hear about a bike accident you think he’s
just fallen off and bumped his head,” says Penny. She quickly realized
that wasn’t the case. An ICU nurse, Penny started fearing the worst when
she phoned the hospital and no one but the doctor could give her an
update — always a bad sign.

Come and come soon she was told after an agonizing
wait. After that, everything was like a bad dream. As if on autopilot,
the couple put some clothes in a suitcase, made arrangements for the dog
and got on flights as soon as humanly possible.

“That was the first time I cried,” says Penny. “Up
until then I was in a daze but when I sat down on the plane to Vancouver
I started crying. I don’t think I stopped for months.”

More than a dozen of Dan’s friends were already in the
waiting room at the hospital, even though only family are supposed to be
able to visit the ICU.

Penny caught sight of her son by accident. He’d
undergone an emergency procedure and was being transported down the
hallway. His head was bandaged, face swollen, body obscured by a mess of
hoses and tubes. Both the moustache and the omnipresent smile it had
framed were gone.

As medical professionals Penny and Jim, a retired
respiratory therapist, had perhaps too much insight into what was going
on in Dan’s body. They understood how deeply unconscious he was, how
fast he’d been going, how unlikely it was that he would ever wake up.

Back at The Kingdom stunned friends gathered, not sure what to do or say.

Matt had been out of town and arrived in Vancouver the
day after the accident to find 40 people at his house and “a lot of
positivity covering up total despair.”

During the weeks that followed, the group rallied. They
took a photo as a Get Well card and held a benefit concert at the Media
Club to raise money for Penny and Jim.

Most of them, Matt says, genuinely thought Dan would
wake up one day and just go back to being Dan. They just couldn’t
conceive of that not happening.

But Matt had this sinking feeling. So did the Winnicks.

As the weeks went by Dan’s cuts and bruises healed. He
opened his eyes but the messages were never conveyed to his brain. Matt
would talk to him about video games or  records or just sit silently and
will him to get better. Penny read to him. She chose To Kill a
Mockingbird, the book she’d read her boys on a long cross-Canada road
trip many years earlier.  They’d play music. Do anything to try and get a
response. “But there wasn’t any capacity to respond left,” says Jim.

Dan’s body finally gave out after a bout with pneumonia
on Aug. 29, 2010. There were funerals in Vancouver and Calgary, where
more than 200 people attended.


The white ghost bike memorial.



There’s no use getting caught up in the what-ifs, says Jim. “You can really drive yourself around the bend.”

But they’re there.

What if the car had got caught at a red light? What if
Dan had cleared the intersection two seconds earlier? What if he’d been
wearing the helmet they found in his apartment as they cleaned it out?

Jim and Penny try not to dwell on the hypotheticals,
but that last one irks them. They’d been here in April with Dan and rode
bikes, Penny asked him about his helmet and now she wishes she’d nagged
him more.

There’s no question the accident was Dan’s fault, a
needling fact that’s difficult for his loved ones to reconcile
themselves with. But the doctors suggested there might have been a
chance of meaningful recovery if he’d been wearing a helmet.

Some of Dan’s friends, Lindsay Shedden, PJ Lavergne,
and his cousin, Shane Rempel, started a non-profit helmet society in
Calgary. This past summer they partnered with Calgary’s Sled Island
Music Festival — a favourite event of Dan’s — to give away helmets by
donation. They ran out both nights.

Getting more young people to protect their heads is
about all his friends could fathom to make the situation better. The
Winnicks are heartened by the effort but still the first anniversary of
Dan’s death looms heavily. Because it’s just the first of many, a
forever without him.

Despite the short time he lived in Vancouver Dan’s
absence has altered this city too. The Kingdom quite literally fell
apart. “After Dan died, the party was over in many ways,” says Matt.
It’s much easier for friends to stick together in the face of hope than

Each of the 20-somethings has struggled to find a way
to deal with the harsh wake-up call. “I either don’t think about it at
all, or it consumes me,” says Matt, admitting he drinks a lot these

But sometimes, when he needs an outlet and doesn’t know
what else to do he’ll pay tribute the only way he can think of. If you
look around Main and Broadway, just a block or two away from where the
ghost bike sits, you might still catch a glimpse of a faded sheriff’s
badge, another reminder of the young man on the bike and the thing
there’s now a little less of in the world. The Good.