Barbara Kentner, an Indigenous woman who was struck by a trailer hitch allegedly thrown from a passing vehicle in Thunder Bay earlier this year, died on Tuesday. She was 34.
In the early hours of Jan. 29, Kentner and her sister were walking in a suburban neighbourhood when the vehicle passed them. Kentner’s sister, Melissa, told Maclean’s she saw a man leaning out of the passenger-side window.
The metal hitch hit Kentner in the abdomen. Her family has said the impact caused significant internal damage — to the point doctors believed she would not survive.
“I heard her take her last breath,” Melissa told APTN News on Tuesday.
In the five months since the incident, Kentner’s health deteriorated. Last week, Maclean’s reported that she had quit drinking immediately after the attack to meet the six-month sobriety requirement to be eligible for a liver transplant, but by this month was considered too sick to be a candidate.
“She was so big and strong,” Kentner’s teenage daughter told the magazine. “Now I’m scared to lie beside her to cuddle her. I’m scared I’m going to hurt her.”
Local First Nations leadership have insisted that Kentner was targeted because she was Indigenous. The attack, they say, highlights a rising threat for Indigenous people, particularly women, in Thunder Bay: projectiles and racial epithets hurled from passing cars in the city.
Anna Betty Achneepineskum is the Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents First Nations in northern Ontario. She lives in Thunder Bay and said she has experienced this first hand, when someone threw eggs at her from a passing vehicle. She said others have told her about feces thrown from cars. But the trailer hitch that struck Kentner, she said, was a disturbing escalation.
Kentner, an Anishinaabe woman, belonged to Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, Achneepineskum said.
“I believe if Barbara was non-Indigenous, than she would still be alive today and she would be getting supper ready for her 16-year-old daughter,” Achneepineskum told the National Post on Tuesday. She said she called police after Kentner’s death and told them she was “expecting to hear” that there would be changes to the charge laid against the accused.
Brayden Bushby, 18, has been charged with aggravated assault in the incident. His next court appearance is scheduled for next week.
Thunder Bay Police wouldn’t say whether Kentner’s death would lead to any further charges. Const. Julie Tilbury would only say that investigators were aware of Kentner’s death and planned to consult with the coroner on the case.
Earlier this year, Tilbury said that in the event of Kentner’s death, the “Crown would be consulted to review all of the evidence, including medical records, to determine what the appropriate next step would be.”
National Post, with files from Adrian Humphreys