Joan Shelton walked with a cane but still moved quickly. She painted landscapes and abstracts. She loved travel and her grandnieces and nephews. She sponsored refugee families and kept their pictures on her fridge. She was 88.
And her family says she didn't deserve to die in a hospital bed Monday, after suffering critical injuries when she was struck in a downtown hit-and-run last Friday morning.
Police are still looking for the vehicle and its driver.
Shelton had been on her way to the Millennium Library at about 10:30 a.m. when she tried to cross the street at Smith and Broadway a few blocks from her apartment, where she lived independently. A five-ton moving truck cut the curb and hit her, then fled the scene, police said Wednesday. Pedestrians came to her aid before police and paramedics arrived.
The Winnipeg Police Service said it had no updates Thursday on the search for the suspect or whether their request for help from the public had yielded any tips.
Shelton had fractured ribs, other broken bones and her kidneys had failed, her grandniece Kirstin Bilous said. But she tried her best to talk to Bilous and her sister when they went to visit her Saturday, and when it became clear she wasn't going to make it, opened her eyes when she heard Bilous's voice and her name.
"It’s been a really hard pill to swallow because that’s not the way anybody thought she would go — she was a free spirit; she would go on her own terms in a few years. She had good years left," Bilous said in her North Kildonan backyard.
"You may have saved five seconds, but you lost someone else five years."
Bilous pleaded for the public to help if they witnessed the collision, or for the perpetrator to step forward.
"I really hope that someone saw something, or even the person who did it can come forward — obviously they weren’t paying attention, or were being impatient, but… that’s someone’s (life) and it affects a lot of people," she said, pausing to search for the right words, her voice strained behind tears.
"If anybody has any information, I would just be forever thankful."
Shelton was more like another grandmother to Bilous, her sister and their cousins than a great aunt. Bilous remarked she doesn't think most people are as close to their great aunts the way they were.
"You may have saved five seconds, but you lost someone else five years." — Hit and run victim Joan Shelton's grandniece Kirstin Bilous
"I wish she knew... how important she was to all of us, I don’t think she knew that, or didn’t see it; how much she shaped us to be creative and to live our lives to the fullest," she said.
Shelton had never married or had children of her own.
"She was at every event, every birthday and graduation. We would talk on the phone quite a bit," Bilous said.
"She was very into arts and culture and she would take us everywhere — we went to Folklorama, the Bears on Broadway… she would take us to her art school that she went to when we were little and she would show us how to do painting. She was always like the cool aunt you always hear about."
Bilous recently moved into her new home; her great aunt gave her a landscape she painted of a rocky river and forest in Banff, among other art and keepsakes, including the deeply personal notes she wrote in every card and book she gave her loved ones.
She cried as she read the inscription Shelton wrote on the card for her high school graduation.
"Those are good memories to have," she said.
Or the construction-paper passport Shelton made for their trips to Folklorama, complete with stamps and photos of the two nieces at the pavillions they visited.
“I really hope that someone saw something, or even the person who did it can come forward ‐ obviously they weren’t paying attention, or were being impatient, but… that’s someone’s (life) and it affects a lot of people." — Kirstin Bilous
Bilous kept adding to that book her great aunt made for her as a young girl; when she taped a soil and rock sample to the page after a family visit to the Black Hills mountain range in the U.S.
This week, Bilous is part of the wedding party for a close high school and university friend; it will be a traditional Hindu celebration over several days.
"This is something she would’ve loved — the dancing, the food, the henna, the outfits — I was really excited to show her the pictures," she said, her hands inked with intricate designs in temporary henna dye.
Bilous turned 27 last Friday, so she was surprised when her Aunty Joan didn't call.
"The next day, when I found out she was in the hospital… it’s so sad to hear that, that it happened," she said.
"I’m trying to focus on the wedding, being present, because that’s what she would want, but at the same time it just makes me think of how much she would have loved it and enjoyed hearing about it. She was a good listener."
Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer at the Winnipeg Free Press.