2 women who died trying to save turtle on road in Chatham-Kent, Ont., remembered for love of animals

It was a shock to Dorothy Suliga when she learned that her mother, Teresa Suliga, and her aunt, Elizabeth Seremak, had been struck and killed by a vehicle on a rural road in Chatham-Kent.

But it wasn’t surprising that the two women were trying to save a turtle at the time.

“My whole family just said, yes, of course they were,” Dorothy Suliga told CBC Windsor.

“They always saved everything. From a little bird to a tree… It was always their nature to help any living thing.”

Teresa Suliga feeds birds in a family photo. (Dorothy Suliga)

The two senior women were fatally hit by a vehicle on Charing Cross Road just south-east of Chatham on the evening of May 18, shortly after 7 p.m.

Chatham-Kent police have confirmed that the two women — ages 68 and 66 — stopped their own vehicle on the side of the road near Horton Line, and exited the vehicle to help a turtle cross the roadway.

On Wednesday, police said their investigation remains ongoing. No charges have been laid.

A straight two-lane rural road.
Charing Cross Road near Horton Line in the Chatham-Kent area is shown in this Google Maps image. (Google Maps)

The vehicle that hit the two women was northbound. The section of Charing Cross Road is a straight two-lane road, with ditches on either side and no street lighting. The posted speed limit is 80 km/h.

“The road is flat and wide-open. Their car had hazard lights on,” Dorothy said. “I’m finding it extremely difficult to put the pieces together to understand.”

Despite such questions, Dorothy said she knows her mother would have forgiven the driver.

“It’s not, for me, about looking to place blame. I think mistakes happen,” Dorothy said.

“My message for everyone, for the public, is to just be as safe as possible. This can destroy our lives so quickly… Especially on these farm roads where vehicles are going fast.”

A senior-age woman carries a small dog.
Teresa Suliga with one of her beloved pet dogs in a family photo. (Dorothy Suliga)

Dorothy expressed gratitude to the people who immediately stopped and tried to help — especially some off-duty emergency nurses. “They stayed by her side and they held her hand and they rubbed her head as she took her last few breaths.”

“I cannot say how grateful I am for everybody that was on-scene, as it was my biggest fear that she passed alone.”

The Suliga family emigrated to Canada from Poland in the 1990s, settling in the Cambridge area to raise Dorothy and her younger brother.

Teresa Suliga had an engineering background and worked in telecommunications. She and her husband moved to Blenheim about seven years ago to retire.

Dorothy said her mother and her aunt were very close. Elizabeth Seremak remained a Cambridge resident, but often visited Blenheim to see her sister — especially after Dorothy’s father died last year.

A senior woman cradles a live rabbit.
Elizabeth Seremak in a family photo. (Dorothy Suliga)

“They were best friends,” Dorothy said. “They talked every day. They would go on different adventures. Trips to Windsor and new areas to visit parks.”

The obituaries of both women mention their love of animals and nature.

“My mother’s name was Teresa. We called her Mother Teresa,” Dorothy said. “A lot of my friends described her as angelic… A listening ear, extremely patient and caring.”

Colin Cassin, chair of the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, said that while concern for turtles is admirable, personal safety is paramount.

“We stress to all of our volunteers: It’s always human safety first,” Cassin said. “Unfortunately, sometimes the conditions just don’t allow for anyone to get out and help that turtle.”

Most of Ontario’s native turtle species are endangered or threatened. Cassin said thousands of turtles die on Ontario roads every year. Last year, the centre received around 2,000 injured turtles.

“Turtles are an important part of our habitats, our ecosystems, and our wetland health in Ontario… They’re part of our biodiversity,” Cassin said. “But our key message is always personal safety first.”

A woman and her senior-age mother.
Dorothy Suliga (left) and her mother Teresa (right) in a family photo. (Dorothy Suliga)

Dorothy said she hopes the public remembers her mother and her aunt first and foremost as kind, loving people.

“I feel like, recently, there’s so much hate in the world, and anger,” she said.

“Yes, this is catastrophic. But I know, both my mom and my aunt, all they wished for was that we were all kinder and nicer to one another. That was their biggest message.”

A senior-age woman stands in a field of tulips.
Teresa Suliga in a family photo. (Dorothy Suliga)

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