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Man severely injured in 2009 gaybashing at Fountainhead dies

Ritchie Dowrey never regained his independent life

Ritchie Dowrey, seen here in a Langley care home in October 2010, couldn’t remember the gaybashing that derailed his life. Credit: Janet Rerecich

Ritchie Dowrey, the well-loved man who was permanently incapacitated by a powerful punch that sent him crashing to the hard tile floor near the entrance to the Fountainhead Pub nearly six years ago, died in a care home Jan 31.

Dowrey never regained his independent life. His friend Lindsay Wincherauk tells Xtra that Dowrey had become bedridden in the last year and no longer recognized anyone, though he still lit up when people came to visit him in his Burnaby care home.

Dowrey’s brother Allan informed Xtra by email of Ritchie’s death Jan 31 but declined to comment further.

Prior to the gaybashing that derailed his life on March 13, 2009, Dowrey was a friendly, fun-loving man with an infectious, easy laugh and, friends say, a kind word for everyone. A regular at the popular Davie Street pub, he could usually be found at the pool table or at his favourite spot at the corner of the bar. He never missed a Lions’ or Canucks’ game.

The assault left Dowrey with bleeding on the brain, a shift in his brain position and a skull fracture. Witnesses said they heard a “sickening thud” when his head hit the tile floor. He needed 47 staples on his head, Allan told Xtra in 2010, tracing a line from temple to ear. “I counted them all.”

The doctors had to relieve the pressure on his brother’s brain to keep him alive, Allan said. Two months later, Ritchie still couldn’t move his left side and had only minor motion on his right. More than a year later, he was incapable of independent self-care and struggled to speak and walk. He could recall only fragments of his former life.

By 2011, he had regained some of his speech and was more able to sustain a conversation. On a filmed trip back to the Fountainhead with Xtra, he repeatedly expressed the desire to move back downtown. “I want to play golf; I want to go on a boat, catch fish. I want to live,” he said. “And drink beers with my friends,” he added, smiling and shaking Wincherauk’s hand.

Wincherauk says that visit to the Fountainhead marked the high-water mark of Dowrey’s recovery. He never moved back downtown, never again lived independently and, in the last few months, had more bad days than good. “He was definitely not in good shape,” Wincherauk says.

For his vicious punch that permanently injured the man who offered to buy him a drink at a gay bar, Shawn Woodward was sentenced to prison in November 2010. Judge Jocelyn Palmer ruled that his action was motivated by hatred and gave him a stiffer sentence of six years for aggravated assault.

Wincherauk and other witnesses who stopped Woodward as he stepped over Dowrey’s prone body, left the pub and attempted to walk away heard him repeat, “He’s a faggot. He deserved it. The faggot touched me. He deserved it.”

“I see no other possible explanation for Mr Woodward’s behaviour than virulent homophobia,” Palmer ruled.

The judge’s ruling was welcomed by many members of the gay community who had been pushing the justice system for years to recognize gaybashings and punish them more severely according to existing sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada that call for a harsher penalty for hate-motivated crimes. Woodward’s crime was the second in 2010 to be recognized as a gaybashing in Vancouver, and he was sentenced accordingly.

Woodward was granted full parole in May 2013 after serving less than three years behind bars. The Parole Board of Canada found that although Woodward believed his sentence was “too punitive,” he “demonstrated genuine remorse” and had come to recognize that Dowrey posed no threat to him. Woodward will have to report to a parole officer until his full sentence is completed on Nov 7, 2016.

Wincherauk says he hopes Woodward “feels a ton of remorse today. I hope he feels sick to his stomach.”

“What was it all about?” he asks. “Here’s this horrible event and it connects a whole bunch of people, and you go through this trial and you think there’s some justice.” But then Woodward gets to return to his life and Dowrey does not, Wincherauk says. He finds some solace in the hope that Dowrey was never fully aware of his “medical prison” — “because I couldn’t imagine what it would be like just sitting there, not having your life and watching the tick-tick-tick of the clock.”

“I think it’s important that all of that was for something,” Wincherauk says. “Do people just die and nobody cares? I think it’s important not to let that happen; that we remember him and that he was a great guy and a happy guy. And that nobody deserves it.”

Dowrey was 62 years old and celebrating his retirement among friends when Woodward attacked him.