COMMANDA – In a split second the love of his life was ripped away forever. No chance to say “good-bye” or “I love you.” No chance to see her smiling face one last time – just gone in the blink of an eye.
Amber and Brendan.
That’s the heart-wrenching reality faced by university student Brendan Cote, after losing his best friend and love Amber Booth.
“I really thought it would last forever,” said Cote of his relationship with his then 19-year-old girlfriend whom he had met in 2009 while working at Restoule Provincial Park. “It was like finding the perfect girl.”
This sentiment is echoed in the devotion of her father Ted Booth who shared his home with his little girl Amber from her days as an endearing third-grader right up until receiving the worst phone call of his life.
On June 5, 2011, Booth was told his daughter was dead.
“I dropped the phone,” said Booth. “I was out in the driveway, buckled down on my hands and knees in pain. My neighbours thought I was dying.”
At noon that day, Amber, who had recently begun a job at Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park near Timmins, was involved in a fatal collision – his little girl was gone.
A transport truck was following Amber on the highway as she was preparing to make a left-hand turn. Just as she did, the truck’s driver tried to pass her on the left. She turned right in front of him as she attempted to make a legal turn to exit the highway.
“He T-boned her,” said Booth, who believes speed was a major factor in the accident. Adding, “There were no brake marks (from the truck) on the pavement.”
The truck’s driver also perished in the blaze caused by the collision.
“The police officer said she died before she even knew what hit her,” said Booth.
As angry as he is about the death of his daughter, Booth said he has to feel for the loved ones of the man who killed her.
“The trucker killed Amber, but the trucker had a family too,” said Booth.
According to Booth, because of the fire, investigators relied on DNA to identify Amber – another harsh blow to an adoring father.
Booth said he is forever grateful to the first response team, as well as the police officer whose job is was to give him the tragic news.
“They have a tough job,” he said.
Today, Amber’s bedroom sits untouched, her artwork and photos still displayed all over the Booth home just as they did one year ago.
Raised by her dad since she was a youngster, Amber took to his pastimes, including hunting and motorcycles. These pastimes led to her fast-friendship with Cote.
“I don’t know why I didn’t realize it at the time that we would be a good match,” said Cote, who didn’t begin dating Amber until the duo crossed paths again about a year later. Cote said they had an “instant connection”. Amber then invited him to her family’s farm in Commanda to go bird hunting, a sport Cote enjoyed as well.
“I was pretty shy with girls, so when she asked me to go all I could think was a really cute girl is asking me to bird hunting – that’s pretty cool,” he said, with a grin. “Deer hunting came soon after and that was a big family event, so it was cool to be part of it.”
Cote said after spending some time with Amber, the pair realized how much they had in common. Both loved hunting, fishing, both were only children, both were Pisces, and both were raised by single parents. Cote’s father was killed in a car accident just before Cote turned five.
“It was a perfect match,” said Cote, tearfully. “I just wished I had realized it sooner. I saw photos later of her at prom. I would have loved to have been the one to take her to prom.”
During her time at Restoule Provincial Park, Amber had an impact on everyone whose path she crossed, including park superintendent Wade Murrant.
“Her attitude, her work ethic her whole way of being had an impact,” he said. “She lit up a room.”
Murrant was pivotal in the creation of the Amber Booth Award, which is a bursary award to be given out annually to the student who best exemplifies a commitment to health and safety.
“Amber was part of the stewardship program and was on her way to health and safety training when the accident occurred,” said Murrant. “She and her family had close ties with the park. This was the first one she worked in.”
In addition to the bursary, the Ministry of Natural Resources has chosen to honour Amber’s contributions by naming a small lake after her.
On Sunday, May 20 at 1 p.m., the MNR will dedicate a monument at the newly named Amber Lake in Restoule Provincial Park in honour of the aspiring conservation officer.
Camping will be made available for Amber’s friends and family who attend the ceremony, which is also a potluck get-together.
Since Amber’s passing, Cote has stayed in close contact with her family, visiting her grandparents’ farm about once a month – a place Amber loved to visit with her family, including the Pomeranian she named Puff.
He said it’s tough trying to move on.
“Everyone was supportive, especially in the beginning, but everyone who misses her still has the luxury of going home to their son, daughter, boyfriend, girlfriend,” he said.
Cote said having Amber’s family keep in touch has helped him through the grieving process.
“The door is always open with them,” he said. “We only dated for seven months, but I was sure that I was going to marry her.”
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a suit and tie kind of guy, but I thought for sure the one time I would wear a suit would be at their wedding,” said Booth. “I told him, no matter what, he’s family.”
At the age of 12, Amber was given a horse by her father as a surprise. June became a quiet confidant and cherished pet of Amber’s, an experience she was delighted to share with the new man in her life.
“She definitely loved horses,” said Cote, whose first experience on the back of a horse was with Amber leading the reigns. “It was nice that she wanted to share that with me.”
Cote said one of his favourite memories of Amber was to see her ride June.
“It was amazing to see her on a horse,” he said. “She was so comfortable and she could get it to do anything.”
Amber was laid to rest at the Commanda Cemetery marked with a headstone with an image of a girl and her horse, the other side with a man and his motorcycle.
Booth said he will one day share the plot with his daughter.
According to Booth, more than 700 people attended the wake.
“I have friends who said they waited in line for two hours just to sign the guest book,” said Booth. “They were lined up on both sides of the street.”
As a unique tribute, Booth had attendees leave a special message for Amber by writing directly on her casket, which was made from 100 per cent wood – no hardware – in honour of Amber’s environmental ties.
Booth said support from the community was overwhelming.
He said the community has become like family, and family is the theme of the motorcycle ride he is organizing in honour of Amber and all other loved ones lost by the participants.
On June 2, Booth has arranged “Forget us Not” a ride in memory of Amber Booth.
“We all have somebody that we’ve lost,” said Booth. “The devastation when you get that phone call or knock at the door and the police officer has to give you the news that tears your heart out. That’s what this ride is about – family.”
Booth said he still has complete strangers come up to him on the street and say they knew Amber and give him a hug.
“Those people are family, too,” he said.
The ride begins in Powassan at the Hawk & Fox, where Amber once worked. Waivers to join the ride are available there. The ride ventures through Burk’s Falls, Magnetawan, Port Loring, and ends at Restoule Provincial Park for a potluck and camping open to friends and family of Amber.
Anyone wishing to RSVP for either event, as well as to reserve a camping space, can email email@example.com
Booth said he will continue to look for ways to honour his daughter’s legacy.
“I was Amber’s rock and I will continue to be her rock till the day I die,” he said.