He was tough and fearless, even after that first near-fatal crash left him with a fragile skull
David Borden Playter was born in Medicine Hat, Alta., on May 27, 1981, the second of three brothers (Drew is the oldest; Philip the youngest). Raised by their mother, Kimberley Playter, the boys grew up in “the Flats,” the city’s downtown core. “It was a hard life,” Drew says. “But we always took care of each other. We always stuck together.”
As kids, Drew and David were inseparable. When his brother was a toddler, Drew would often tie a “crazy carpet” to the back of his bicycle and drag young David around the neighbourhood. Later, when David was old enough to try riding on his own, it was Drew who gave him his first push. “He pedalled like a bat out of hell and straight into a pole,” Drew recalls.
“Accidents like that just followed him everywhere.” One afternoon,
David steered his bike between two parked cars and smack into the middle of oncoming traffic.
He spent a week in the hospital.
In Grade 6, David and his family packed up a U-Haul trailer and moved east to the Peterborough area, in Ontario. He was the only kid in his class with a tattoo (Odie,
Garfield’s comic-strip sidekick, covered his right shoulder—the first of many ink designs to decorate his six-foot frame). As a teenager, David loved all sorts of music—country, hip hop, punk rock. But heavy metal was his favourite. He was a decent guitar player himself, and not a bad singer, either. “That was his dream,” says Wendy Dunford, his favourite aunt. “He always wanted to be in the band.” Before they were famous, David often jammed with the members of Three Days Grace, a chart-topping metal band from nearby Norwood, Ont.
Norwood was also home to Pete’s Skate Barn, where David and his friends spent day after day riding their boards up and down the half-pipe. David was a natural—fearless and inventive. “He was a risk-taker,” says Jason Vestad, a close friend. “He loved to do all the big tricks, and everyone stopped to watch him.” His family can barely recall a time when he wasn’t recovering from a broken wrist or a sprained ankle. Once, David was so anxious to get back on his board that he cut open the cast on his broken foot.
But his skateboard injuries were mere cuts and bruises compared to what happened in 2001, when David fell asleep at the wheel while driving home from a late-night party. His beloved car—a metallic
green 1981 Chevy Malibu—smashed into a rock cut on the side of a rural road. “He should have perished in that crash,” his mother says. Amazingly, David climbed out of the wreckage, hitchhiked to his brother’s house, and fell asleep on the living room floor. The next morning, Drew found him lying in a pool of blood. Doctors performed reconstructive surgery on his face, slicing open his forehead from ear to ear and inserting a metal mesh to keep the bones
in place. A few days later, David was back on his skateboard, urging friends to touch the small steel screws underneath his skin. “My brother has been through hell and back,” Drew says. “He is truly the toughest man I have ever known in my life.”
He was tough with his fists, too. David threw—and took—his fair share of punches. “He never went looking for trouble, but it always seemed to find him,” Jason says. After the car accident, though, David was careful to avoid confrontation. The doctors repeatedly warned him that his fragile skull might not be able to endure another blow. “Everybody knew he was not to be hit in the head,” Wendy says. “A three-year-old could have knocked him out.” David was no saint. He dabbled in hard drugs, including crack cocaine, and he enjoyed his beer. But he worked as hard as he partied. After high school, he took a job at a fibreglass company, then as a landscaper. His bosses always loved him, and so did everyone else. He knew hundreds of people, or at least it seemed that way. “If he was your friend, he was your friend 100 per cent,” says Tom Gardner, one of his many pals.
In August, David made a bold decision: he moved back to Medicine Hat. Struggling with drug addiction and anxious for a career change, he found a fresh start in the city of his childhood, working as a carpenter for a mobile-home construction company. “He was quite proud of himself,” says Gloria Hansen, a close family friend. “He was doing a lot better, and he did it on his own.”
On Feb. 28, a Thursday, David was hanging out with some friends. Police are still investigating the details, but this much is clear: at 9:30 p.m., David was standing near the edge of a sidewalk when another person struck him in the head. He fell onto the road, unconscious from the blow. As he lay there, a passing car ran him over. M
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