CALGARY — A gas station attendant who was run over by a stolen pickup truck that was allegedly trying to get away without paying for fuel was a highly qualified engineer who was forced to take the low-paying job when she was laid off from a Calgary oil and gas company.
Ashtiana Rashidi, who was 35 and known to her family as Maryam, died Tuesday.
A 20-year-old Calgary man is facing charges of criminal negligence causing death, hit and run causing death, possession of stolen property over $5,000 and theft. Police won’t release his name until he appears in court.
A 16-year-old boy was released without charges.
Family friend Amin Atter said Wednesday that Rashidi and her husband, Ahmed Mourani Shallo, both emigrated to Canada from their home country of Iran a year ago, stopping for a few weeks in Montreal before moving to Calgary.
Both got engineering jobs in Canada’s oil capital, but when the Alberta economy started to decline, both were laid off.
Atter said Rashidi took the job at the Centex station across from North Hill Mall because she felt she had no choice.
“She wanted to bring food onto the table for the family,” he said. “Even though that job was not related to her professional career. After three days working over there, this tragedy happened.”
Atter said like many immigrants who can’t find work in their fields in Canada, she had to make a hard decision.
“She was a graduate of one of the top universities in Iran, and she was really highly qualified in engineering,” he said. “It was very tough for her to take another job that was not related to her career.”
Police have said it appears Rashidi chased the vehicle and stood in front of it to try to block it from leaving. She was hit and carried along on the hood before she fell off and was run over.
Atter said her actions are a puzzle to her grieving husband and to her friends.
“To be honest, this is a question we haven’t gotten an answer to yet,” he said. “The personality that we know from Maryam, she’s not a person to go and stop the truck. She was very calm.”
Alnoor Bhura, president of Centex Petroleum, has said company employees are told not to put themselves at risk chasing a “gas runaway,” but “it’s understandable how an employee may react in the heat of the moment.”
He called on the government to adopt legislation that requires motorists to pay before they can use gas pumps.
Atter said regardless of why Rashidi acted as she did, “I would call her a hero. She was trying to save the community from a bad crime and we should appreciate her.”
Mourani Shallo is now left to raise their six-year-old son, Koorosh, alone. Money is a worry, as he is still unemployed, so friends have set up a trust fund for the pair at TD Bank.
He initially wanted his wife buried in Iran, but Muslim custom requires a speedy burial so arrangements are being made to bring her family here for a funeral.
Atter said both the Canadian-Iranian community and the Calgary community at large have been supportive and helpful. He said after the burial, his friend hopes to go to Iran for a while to spend time with family but “definitely he has a plan to stay in Calgary.”
Mourani Shallo said it will take him some time to get over the loss.
“She was very responsible, she was very pretty and she was a very good wife for me,” he said. “She was the best thing I had.”
— with files from CHQR
The Canadian Press