CanadaHit-and-run survivor who emerged from a coma free of addictions needs a home
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In a Merivale Road coffee shop, Victor Carboni lifts his shirt to reveal the angry, twisting scar that has vandalized his full-back tattoo: a once-prowling panther.
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It forms part of the profound aftermath to a hit-and-run on Christmas Eve 2017 — Carboni was dragged more than a kilometre after being struck — that has left the 54-year-old brain injured, homeless, addiction free and anxious for a new start.
“The accident changed my life,” he says.
Carboni emerged from a months-long coma last year to find himself without a drug addiction for the first time in decades. He’s now eager to find an affordable apartment and move on with his life.
“I can’t be living on the street the way I’ve been,” says Carboni, his face deeply lined, tanned and scarred.
“Somebody up there has given me a second chance at life, and I’m going to change a lot of it. I want to have something. Get settled.”
One of 10 children raised by grandparents in Little Italy, Carboni suffered from polio as a boy and wore braces on the right side of his body. He struggled with addiction issues from the time he was 16. The drugs led him into petty crime — mostly break-ins and robberies — and prison, which is where he developed an interest in tattoos.
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“I’m more street-wise than school-wise,” he says.
Carboni doesn’t remember anything about the Christmas Eve incident that ruined and saved him.
But Dave Gignac, a retired long-haul truck driver, can’t forget it.
Gignac was outside St. Augustine Church after an early evening mass when he saw Carboni walking north across Baseline Road, east of Merivale. Not at a crosswalk, Carboni was holding a coffee, Gignac says, and appeared to be headed towards a bus stop.
Carboni made it to the median without incident, Gignac says, but as he stepped into the westbound lanes of traffic, he was clipped by a car and knocked off-balance. A second vehicle, a white car, sent him flying through the air. He landed flat on his back.
Gignac ran toward the scene, waving his arms to stop traffic, but before he could get there, a westbound van ran over Carboni. The van kept driving, and turned north onto Merivale with Carboni lodged in its undercarriage.
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Gignac was so frantic that some motorists stopped to ask if he was OK: He told them to call police, that a pedestrian had been hurt. When one driver asked where the injured man was, Gignac could only point north: “I think they thought I was off my rocker,” he says.
He picked up Carboni’s winter hat from the roadway. Gignac still has it hanging in his closet more than a year-and-a-half later.
“From what I saw, I didn’t think he had much of a chance,” he says.
Paramedics found Carboni, unconscious and in desperate condition, near Trenton Avenue — more than a kilometre away. He had a traumatic brain injury, a collapsed lung, multiple rib fractures and severe road rash that had torn broad swaths of skin from his hips, back, shoulders, ear, scalp and face.
Carboni remembers little about his time in hospital except for how he felt when he regained consciousness: He no longer craved crack, heroin or fentanyl — drugs that had previously bedevilled him. They once fuelled angry outbursts, but no more.
“Everything changed on me,” he says. “Ever since I got hit, I’ve mellowed out.”
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His muscles were so deconditioned that he couldn’t walk, and he left The Ottawa Hospital in a wheelchair for the rehab centre.
By the time he was finally ready to return home, about nine months after being struck down, he had lost his bachelor apartment on Bronson Avenue. Unwilling to go to a homeless shelter for fear of falling back into his old lifestyle, Carboni bounced from couch to couch or slept rough while waiting to climb the city’s long wait list for subsidized housing.
More than 10,000 people are on Ottawa’s Social Housing Registry. Typically, it takes five to seven years or more to receive a placement offer, depending on an applicant’s circumstances.
Carboni says he can’t afford to wait that long.
“I’m trying to get somewhere, but every day it’s getting harder and harder: I’m always in pain,” he says. “I smoke marijuana for my pain relief but that’s all I will do.”
None of the motorists who hit Carboni stopped their vehicles. The drivers involved have never been identified, and that has complicated Carboni’s attempt to win an insurance settlement for his ordeal.
Since Carboni himself was uninsured, the only way he can secure a damages award is to sue the province’s Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund, “the payer of last resort.” The fund caps damage claims at $200,000. A lawsuit against the fund was filed on his behalf earlier this month.
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Carboni now draws an income from the Ontario Disability Support Program, which affords him about $1100 a month. Out of that, he must pay his rent, food costs and other expenses. In the past year, he simply has not been able to find a private apartment in central Ottawa within his price range. Many bachelor apartments in the city are going for $1,000 or more.
“The prices are ridiculous,” he says. “I don’t know how anyone on welfare or old-age pension can do it.”
Although tired of being homeless, Carboni knows he’s lucky to be alive and able to walk. “I thank the big guy every morning and I thank him when I go to bed,” he says. “There’s a couple of angels watching over me because I don’t know how I’m still here.”
He has reached out to eyewitness Dave Gignac to help understand what happened on Christmas Eve 2017. They plan to meet for a coffee later this month.
Gignac intends to give Carboni his lost hat.
“I feel for the guy,” says Gignac. “I hope he can get back on his feet.”
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