“As soon as the police gave us the information, I just became numb. So did my wife.”
Dennis and Karen Cobetto of Lacombe had just received the terrible news that two hours earlier their youngest child, 22-year-old Leah Cobetto, had been struck down by a vehicle on the main street of Lacombe.
The couple had just gone to bed on Sept. 23 when police rang their doorbell to deliver the grim news that Leah had been seriously injured at about 10:40 p.m. and was taken by STARS to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.
Leah, who had just finished work at her janitorial job, was walking home to her apartment in Lacombe that she shares with her sister, Terrah, 23. The family owns a cleaning business and both of the Cobetto children work for it.
Police would later state that at about 10 p.m. that evening, a Blackfalds RCMP officer tried to pull over a northbound vehicle on Hwy 2 after he witnessed it nearly sideswiping another vehicle. The officer turned on emergency lights but the vehicle kept going, disappearing into Lacombe.
Police allege it was that vehicle that struck Leah. Her father said another vehicle stopped for Leah at a crosswalk and the suspect vehicle went around the stopped vehicle, striking Leah down and then fleeing. Police later found the vehicle and a 20-year-old man from Red Deer faces impaired driving and other charges.
As Dennis, 63, and Karen, 57, were locking their doors, ready to rush to Edmonton to be with Leah, their phone rang. It was the surgeon at the U of A, telling them Leah’s right leg was shattered and they had no choice: they would have to amputate. Doctors removed her leg just below the knee.
“It was not an easy trip up there,” Karen said on Wednesday when I talked to she and Dennis.
“Leah is, I’m sure she’s going to be fine. We have awesome facilities in this province.
“Currently she is in good hands. … Some days, well actually we can’t even go by days, sometimes minute by minute her spirits can be pretty good, and then just sink thinking about it,” Karen says.
It took a few days before Leah understood what had happened to her, says Dennis.
And when she did, “She was angry. She was extremely angry. She’s lost a leg, it’s a drastic change in her life. She’s 22 years old,” says Dennis, his voice wavering as he stops himself from breaking down.
“She’s just starting life and now she’s got this difficulty, you know, to get through. She won’t be able to work for quite awhile.”
“We believe in our Creator and … He helps you get through it. Prayers are very, very important.”
The couple’s church has been very supportive.
“She told me she remembers lots of headlights and she said ‘I remember the roar of the motor,’ ” Dennis says.
“I just don’t why these young people are doing what they’re doing.
“What are these kids? Brain dead?
“I remember being in my 20s and you didn’t think of doing stupid things like that and if you did something wrong and the police were after you, you stopped and you took your punishment.”
On the bright side, the community has begun to reach out to the family.
“The community has been absolutely awesome,” says Karen.
Dennis is retired from pipefitting because of arthritis. He has a small pension. Karen is as a secretary at a local medical office.
An online auction is underway and an online donation site has been set up by a family friend. A fundraising barbecue is set for Sunday at the Lacombe Memorial Centre.
Meanwhile, relatives and the Cobettos are taking turns visiting Leah in hospital.
She will be in hospital for a while as she faces more surgery, then rehabilitation. Eventually she will be fitted with a prosthesis.
Leah suffered no other injuries except for a scrape on her leg.
Karen says her daughter wonders how she will walk across that street again.
“She did nothing wrong. It was very senseless.
“Because it’s a small town we do a lot of walking. Personally I had to walk there yesterday and I got that feeling in my stomach. You know, you look. You look. You look again, you know. And you just never know.”
FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED
Lacombe residents Emily Rennie and Dar Boyco have initiated fundraising to help Leah Cobetto with her recovery.
Rennie, 25, a family friend who lives next door to the Cobettos, has two young children that Leah used to babysit.
“She’s just a kind, sweet girl,” said Rennie.
While Boyco — the Lacombe gymnastics head coach — doesn’t know Leah personally, she knows who she is because Leah used to work at the local McDonald’s.
“That’s the smiley kid from McDonald’s,” she realized.
A Helping Leah barbecue will be held on Sunday at the Lacombe Memorial Centre from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Local firefighters will be there to help out as well.
A Facebook group, Helping Leah, has been set up and has over 500 members. An online auction can be found on the page, under “Photos.” Several auctions will be held in the days ahead until Sunday.
People can also donate by going to YouCaring.com and then go to Helping Leah. Note the organizer is Dar Boyco and beneficiary is Leah Cobetto. The fundraising goal on the website is $10,000. As of Wednesday afternoon, $1,750 had been raised.