Orion Glenn Hutchinson was born in Vancouver on April 8, 1987, to Judith, an executive assistant with a financial consulting firm, and Glenn, an airline mechanic. He was an exceptionally lively child and his brilliant blue eyes and long dark lashes were so arresting that strangers often stopped and stared. Glenn pasted a baby picture on his toolbox and people “didn’t think it was real,” he remembers. Judith describes Orion as “an old soul,” meaning that from the time he was very young, he was preternaturally intelligent. He was also enthralled by everything in nature from pine cones to caterpillars. As he grew up, he was so protective of living things, “He wouldn’t let us kill a spider,” she recalls. And, “His imagination was incredible.” To fuel it, Judith lugged home library books—especially mythological tales—every week. “I would have to be careful because he would become very terrified or obsessed with different aspects of the stories,” she says. “He would take to things far more intensely than other kids.” As a toddler, he loved to sit behind the wheel of the family car and practise driving, making all the engine and shifting noises, Glenn says. “Even at three, he knew what it meant to be cut off in traffic.”
By the time Orion was four, the family, which by then included daughter Daria, moved south to the coastal community of Tsawwassen, where Glenn worked as a firefighter and Judith as a fitness coach and freelance writer. It was a perfect place for Orion. He studied marine life and disappeared into the woods to play his ocarina, a haunting wind instrument. He met his friend, Stephen Luciak, at Cliff Drive Elementary School when the pair were kicked out of a Grade 2 class for rearranging the teacher’s pens. Orion, was very “high energy,” Stephen says. “Overwhelming.” The two boys often biked long distances with Glenn, but without supervision, Orion tackled steep trails that frightened Stephen. Orion didn’t have many other friends, Daria says. “The friends he had, they had to come to him.” She says he was reserved, but Stephen remembers it differently. “Hanging around with him was a roller coaster. Every step you took was like going around a blind corner.”
As he continued in school, “Orion couldn’t stay seated,” Judith says. “Whether you call it attention deficit disorder, or one of the other terms, he didn’t do well in a structured environment.” And “Accidents happened to him,” Stephen says. Orion once stuck a key into an electrical outlet; as a child, he cut all the wires in the house. He tried to shear off his hair after watching balding B.C. premier Mike Harcourt on TV. High school at South Delta Secondary was a struggle, but Orion graduated. And outdoors, he was always in his element. Swimming, mountain biking or kayaking, Daria says, “He loved anything moving outside in fresh air.”
In his later teens, Orion faced more struggles. His parents separated. He fell in love with a neighbourhood girl named Kate Van Den Brink, who shared his passion for animals, words and music. The two were so close that they all but shut out the rest of the world. When Kate died at 17 of a virulent intestinal infection on a visit to England, he was devastated. “Orion wanted to get a plane ticket and go out there right away,” Daria says. “We had to put some reason into him.”
On his 19th birthday, Orion bought a 599 cc Yamaha FZ6. He used it to travel back and forth to a trades program at Burnaby’s British Columbia Institute of Technology. “I was terrified for him,” Judith says. “But he thought it was the epitome of cool.” Last February, it wasn’t the bike, but a disagreement that landed Orion in the hospital. By some accounts, he was defending Kate’s little brother against boys with hammers. “He almost lost an eye,” Judith says. Orion recovered and completed his courses at BCIT. He had just landed a good-paying job at a machinist’s. “He was really coming into his own,” his aunt Sara Wagner says. Yet Stephen worried. On a visit home five weeks ago, Stephen says Orion “was out of control. I told him, ‘that bike will kill you.’ ”
On Sat., Oct. 25, Orion left home to visit Kate’s grave at nearby Boundary Bay Cemetery, Judith thinks. At 10:15 p.m., on a main Tsawwassen street, a Jeep Wrangler turned left into his path, crushing the motorcycle and killing Orion. The Jeep was allegedly driven by an RCMP corporal identified in the media as Benjamin Monty Robinson, one of four Mounties involved in the 2007 incident at the Vancouver airport that saw Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski die after he was tasered. On the night Orion died, Robinson failed a Breathalyzer test at Delta police headquarters. He has not been charged with anything, but on Jan. 15, he will appear in a Surrey, B.C., court.