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‘Compassion in the wake of tragedy’: Community mourns Wallaceburg crash victims

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Tara Jeffrey

A Sarnia woman who knows all too well the pain of loss says she’s doing her part to spread compassion in the wake of a tragedy following a horrific long weekend crash in Wallaceburg that claimed three young lives.

“Having lived experience with tragedy and the trauma piece, there is so much I can relate to,” said Leanne Fera, who founded Project Mental Wellness after losing her husband to suicide last year.

She created a graphic with the words “Wallaceburg you are in our hearts” that has been shared by thousands online, following the deaths of Victoria Baertsoen, 24, Matthew Cousins, 24, and Shae-Lynn Bachus, 23, who died after the vehicle they were traveling in collided with a semi-tanker truck on McNaughton Ave. at Wallace Street just before 10 p.m. Sunday.

Also in the vehicle were Selena Bushey, 22, who is recovering from non-life threatening injuries, and Mackenzie Vandroffelaar, 25, who remains in serious but stable condition in hospital.

“Please keep everyone affected by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers,” Chatham-Kent Police said in a news release this week.

An online fundraising page has been set up to help support the families involved.

“To help reduce some of the stress and financial burden these families are currently facing we’re asking our community to come together to raise funds that will be equally divided between all five families,” reads a statement on the GoFundMe Page, “Wallaceburg Strong” set up by friends of the Baertsoen family.

Victoria Baertsoen

Victoria Baertsoen was a teacher for the St. Clair Catholic District School Board and employee at Sombra Township Childcare, recently working at the Oaks Retirement Village, “where she was adored by the residents and their families,” an obituary reads.

“Victoria lived a short but noble life of service, caring for children and the elderly across the community with empathy, kindness and love. She was known to have a smile that could light up every room, a contagious laugh and the biggest heart you could ever imagine.

Matthew Cousins. (Cavanagh Funeral Home)

Matthew Cousins was “an avid sports enthusiast who enjoyed hockey, golf, and especially playing for the Red Devil Lacrosse team,” an obituary reads. “If you wish to honour Matt’s memory by making a donation, please consider the Wallaceburg Minor Lacrosse Association.”

A funeral notice for Shae-Lynn Bachus describes her as a “shining star” and encourages donations in her memory to Pet and Wildlife Rescue (PAWR) in Chatham-Kent and the Sarnia & District Humane Society.

Shae-Lynn Bachus (Cavanagh Funeral Home)

“This goes beyond the flowers and the meals that are coming now,” said Fera, who reminds community members to also keep first responders in their thoughts. “It’s about four months, eight months, 12 months from now, when people go back to their ‘normal’ but these families don’t.

“These families will need substantial mental wellness support long after the flowers die, and the meals stop.

“Holding space for families in times of tragedy is a testament to the boundless capacity of human compassion and the unbreakable thread of solidarity that connects us all.”

A link to the GoFundMe can be found here:

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