CHETICAMP, N.S. – A military veteran who died in an alleged hit and run in Cape Breton will be laid to rest Saturday, as a family member questions how he wound up walking on a highway near the hospital where he was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ida LeLievre says her cousin, Jackie Deveau, was struck by a car on Highway 125 near Sydney last Saturday, only two days after checking himself into Cape Breton Regional Hospital for psychological care.
The 54-year-old man died in the same hospital a few hours later, according to police.
“For us, I guess the question is … Where did things go wrong?” LeLievre said.
“Where is that crack in the system that makes it so that people like my brother and so many others end up dead, or end up injuring others, before we do anything about it?”
RCMP say the car continued down the highway through the community of Mira Road without stopping. Investigators are looking for the driver of a grey Volkswagen with damage on its front and passenger side.
LeLievre says the close-knit family from the town of Cheticamp has been trying to reduce their grief by remembering the barrel-chested man who fought to make a difference through the good times and bad.
“He lived and loved, and he loved to live,” she says. “And he loved to the depths of his soul.”
LeLievre says she and Deveau were more like twins than cousins, having grown up under the same roof in the francophone community on the island’s west coast, where he recently returned to retire with his wife of more than three decades.
Deveau served in the Royal Canadian Air Force for around 35 years and raised two sons who decided to pursue military careers of their own, she says.
LeLievre says her relative’s military service left “invisible scars.”
She says Deveau was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after assisting in the cleanup of Swissair Flight 111, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Peggy’s Cove in 1998.
Deveau sought psychological care last Thursday after showing signs of stress related to his PTSD.
“(He had) come to the conclusion that he needed help and that he couldn’t do this by himself,” she said during a telephone interview earlier this week. “We helped him get what we thought was that help.”
LeLievre says his family was led to believe Deveau would be under staff supervision and she doesn’t know how he ended up on the side of a highway last Saturday.
“It’s just beyond my comprehension, and we will definitely be looking for answers,” she says. “Where was the breakdown in communication that made it so that nobody took the necessary measures to bring him to safety?”
The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it doesn’t comment on specific cases, citing privacy concerns.
“My brother will have a voice beyond his death, because he believed we’re not doing enough for people who suffer from PTSD,” said LeLievre.
“This is something that they feel that they have to carry by themselves, and that should never be.”
Deveau will be interred at the St-Pierre cemetery in Cheticamp on Saturday, and his family is asking that mourners make donations to Soldier On, a veteran’s health organization.
— By Adina Bresge in Halifax