A bleak Christmas lies ahead for the family of a Red Deer cyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver south of the city last summer.
With no suspects arrested yet in the death of Heather Lawrence, the RCMP is planning to put up two billboard signs in Red Deer to try and jog memories and, hopefully, obtain more information about the July 6 tragedy.
“It would have been nice if a person had come forward,” said Heather’s brother, Shane, who lives in Edmonton.
“It wouldn’t heal the wounds, or bring my sister back, but it would have brought some small amount of closure.”
As it is, Heather’s family members are facing a difficult holiday season, with many unresolved questions about the death of their loved one.
Heather was a well-liked physiotherapist who specialized in treating children. She was also a talented community theatre actor, an avid cyclist and Cross Roads Church member.
The 45-year-old was struck and killed by a vehicle at about 6:45 p.m. on that Wednesday, July 6, while cycling south of the traffic circle at 40th Avenue and McKenzie Road.
Camera images show the suspect was driving a dark green, sedan-style 1999-2003 Mazda Protege, with after-market five-spoke tire rims, fog lights and exhaust, and a roof-mounted antenna, said RCMP K-Division spokesperson Corp. Troy Savinkoff.
He noted the vehicle would have had significant front-end/windshield damage.
Blackfalds RCMP and the Central Alberta District GIS unit have so far put out five news releases about this fatal incident and are continuing to investigate.
Savinkoff said the next step will be placing two large billboard signs in high-visibility Red Deer locations to draw more public attention to Heather’s hit-and-run death.
The signs will be placed at Gaetz Avenue and 52nd Street on Dec. 26, and at Taylor Drive and 67th Street on Jan. 9.
There are also discussions about posting a reward, beyond the one offered by Crime Stoppers, for information that leads to an arrest.
Shane said the family had to weigh the pros and cons of these new initiatives.
The billboards could open up more grief and pain for Heather’s close friends and relatives, he explained, while offering money for information “doesn’t feel great… you would hope that the person responsible would just come forward as a show of humanity with my sister.”
But the family ultimately agreed to these efforts because “if we didn’t do it, we would always wonder if it would have helped,” said Shane.
Police are still hoping to hear from a potential witness — a motorist who was driving a light-coloured vehicle and forced to swerve to avoid hitting the suspect’s car. No one has yet come forward, but Shane believes it’s possible this person wasn’t attuned to the news in the days after Heather was struck. Perhaps seeing the billboards will make them realize they should come forward, he added.
Shane celebrated his “worst birthday ever” last fall, waiting for a phone call from Heather that he knew would never come.
“I thought about her all day long,” recalled the Edmonton teacher, who believes Heather would likely have driven up for the day, just to see her beloved niece and nephew. “Sometimes she would drive for three hours just to see them for an hour or two.”
This first Christmas without his sister will be very difficult for the whole family, he added. “In the past, we would have always gotten together, either in-person or over Zoom. Her absence will be keenly felt”
Heather’s parents, from Prince George, B.C., will travel to Ontario to spend the holidays with their other daughter “so they won’t be alone,” said Shane, who plans to remain in Edmonton with his wife and kids.
Savinkoff believes these tragedies are particularly hard when no arrests are made.
Often, the court process will help the families get some closure, added the officer, who hopes to make new headway with the billboards.
Heather worked as a physiotherapist with Alberta Health Services in Red Deer for 18 years, spending most of her career at Children’s Rehabilitative Services where she fondly called her clients “kiddos.”
She had a wide circle of friends in Red Deer, encompassing members of the faith, cycling and theatre communities.
A cycling trip in her memory was held earlier this year. And a local group has also installed a white bicycle at the scene of her death. It was recently decorated with Christmas lights.