A decade ago, Winston Salandy proposed to Jennifer Malcolm at York County Hospital with the question, “Will you marry me?” formed on a Scrabble board.
On Christmas Day, at 3:15 a.m., Salandy said farewell to his beloved wife at the same hospital, now the Southlake Regional Health Centre, where she was crushed in a bizarre car accident the day before.
On Monday, friends and relatives streamed in and out of the couple’s modest Holland Landing home, decorated with Christmas lights, gifts still stacked under the tree in the living room.
They were there to express condolences to the grieving family and remember the life of the loving and generous 37-year-old woman who was fatally injured after being pinned between the door and frame of her car while leaving the hospital’s parking lot.
Jennifer Salandy had pulled her vehicle up to the ticket scanner. Because her driver’s window was not functioning, she opened the door and got partially out to stick her ticket in the machine.
Her foot slipped from the brake, the car rolled forward and the ajar door struck a pole, pinning Salandy between the door and the car’s frame.
“She remained stuck for a bit — with the car in drive — before someone came to her,” said York Region police Acting Staff Sgt. Taylor Ward. “The doctors have deemed it a critical brain injury.”
Winston Salandy, a worker at a community group home, has many fond memories of his wife, whom he met in 1991 while they were at Huron Heights Secondary School in Newmarket.
After graduation, Salandy was enrolled in Centennial College’s developmental services workers’ program while Jennifer studied early childhood education at Seneca College. She later ran a home-based daycare service with Salandy’s sister, Debbie.
“She loved her kids and everybody else’s kids,” said Salandy as their three children — Chelsea, 8, Winston, 6, and Ameera, 4 — ran around the house.
“Every kid who came to her, she treated them like her own. Her world always revolved around her children.”
Salandy said he proposed to Jennifer at the hospital at the urging of his ailing father, who just had a stroke and wanted to live to see him married.
“I kept asking Jennifer, ‘Do you want to play Scrabble?’ and she said, ‘I don’t,’ ” recalled Salandy, 37, with a flashing smile. “I opened the board anyway. It said, ‘Do you want to marry me, Jennifer?’ She was genuinely shocked and said yes.”
To ensure Salandy’s father could witness their wedding, Jennifer offered to have a simple garden wedding in the family’s backyard and move in with them to help look after her frail in-law.
“She was selfless,” said Salandy. “She gave up whatever she could to help somebody.”
In fact, Jennifer was just leaving the hospital on that fatal afternoon after visiting her grandmother, who suffered a heart attack the evening before.
“When Jennifer came into this family, she was an angel,” said Raquib Khan, Winston Salandy’s uncle. “She was one of the most amazing people to be around. I don’t know how to explain. I’m frozen.”
Salandy said they had just taken the car to an autobody shop earlier last week, but forgot to get the malfunctioning window fixed.
“The whole thing is a litany of tragedy,” said York Regional Police Duty Insp. Gary Miner. “It’s the early days for this family. It’s the absolutely worst time falling on Christmas.”
Salandy said he and his whole family were gathering at his place on Christmas Eve when two police cruisers parked in front of the house.
“They said there was an accident, but didn’t say how bad it was. We didn’t think it was that bad,” said Salandy, who arrived at the hospital and immediately sent for his kids after realizing the extent of Jennifer’s injuries.
“I took the kids inside and Jennifer was in a respirator, comatose. Chelsea asked if mommy was going to die. I’m glad they got to see their mom one more time.”
The loss has not sunk in yet for the couple’s three children.
“We brought the kids to my house later and one of them asked, ‘If mommy is still sick, will Santa still come to our house?’ ” said their aunt, Debbie Salandy, who helps look after the kids. “We try to keep life as normal for them as possible.”
A sobbing Winston Salandy recalled some final conversations with his wife: “When we finished doing the stockings (Thursday), we told each other that we’re going to have a great Christmas,” he said. “Then she called me after seeing grandma. I told her, ‘I love you. Be safe. I will see you after work.’ ”
Despite a pact not to get Christmas presents for each other, Salandy secretly bought Jennifer a winter coat, some dress clothes and a cushy pillow. She never got to see them.
Jennifer also got her husband a well-wrapped gift: a bottle of Eternity cologne.
A funeral is scheduled on Wednesday at the Taylor Funeral Home on Davis Dr. in Newmarket.