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Agonizing aftermath for crash victim


Jeff Dow’s first memory after his crash is waking up in a hospital bed to see two uniformed police officers waiting to charge him with impaired driving.

Months earlier, Dow had drank “way over his limit,” got into his company truck and drove into a median on a highway near Brooks.

Brandy Allen doesn’t remember the events leading up to her crash. But she does remember opening her eyes to see her family and friends waiting at her hospital bedside at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

The details are pieced together from what others have told her and brief flashes of memory.

“I just know I was out partying earlier that night,” said Allen. “I just know I was drinking. I have flashes but it is nothing that gives me an idea of what happened.”

The two young adults made the same fateful decision that would change their lives forever.

Allen and Dow are lucky to be alive. Every year in Canada between 1,250 and 1,500 people are killed in motor-vehicle accidents related to impaired driving. On average, impaired driving causes more than 63,000 injuries in the country each year.

Today, Allen and Dow are both confined to wheelchairs –– Allen as a quadriplegic and Dow as a paraplegic.

Both were in their early 20s when they got behind the wheel after having one too many drinks — Allen in 2004 and Dow in 2007.

Alone in their vehicles, they only hurt themselves.

“If someone would have been in the car with me or I would have hit someone else, I’m not sure I would be handling it,” said an emotional Allen, now 30.

“My heart goes out . . . that would have been really difficult. It’s bad enough I hurt myself.”

A week before Christmas 2004, Allen remembers arguing with a boyfriend. She was out “partying” somewhere and was on her way to Red Deer or coming back to the city. Early the next morning, a driver on Hwy 42, near Pine Lake, noticed the glint of medal in the sunlight and found a wrecked car in a field and Allen clinging to life. Doctors believe she had laid in the field between three and six hours.

Allen, who was 22 at the time, recalls seeing the pain and the suffering on her family’s faces when she opened her eyes. “Something that could have been prevented,” said Allen. “How stupid is that? I thought this is mine to suck up. I had to take responsibility for it. There’s no one to blame but myself.”

Through the help of a psychologist at the hospital, Allen realized she had not dealt with the death of her eldest brother. who had died seven years before because of complications related to epilepsy. Allen turned to alcohol and drugs instead of dealing with his death. Allen said the car accident has taught her to deal with issues and encourages others to do the same.

“If things are really bothering you, if you have some sort of depression, sadness or addiction you need to go get help sooner or later,” said Allen, adding if she had received help to deal with her problems, she would not be where she is today. “I had a lot of friends telling me I shouldn’t be drinking and driving. I can’t say nobody told me.”

Dow says he was “set” and his future was bright when he got behind the wheel without giving it a second thought.

At the time, Dow was 20 and making good money as a supervisor at an oilfield company where he had worked since he quit school at 16. And he had recently moved into his first house with his girlfriend.

On his scheduled day off, Dow went into work and got into an argument with his girlfriend. To get his mind off the fight, Dow went out for drinks with friends from work.

Sometime that evening, Dow jumped into the company truck and drove down the highway after an argument with a friend.

“Fortunately I did not hurt anybody else besides myself and the truck,” said Dow. “That’s the only thing that makes me feel OK.”

He was airlifted to Foothills Hospital in Calgary, where he spent eight and a half months recovering from his extensive injuries.

Dow was charged with driving under the influence and he lost his licence for one year. He was fined $1,400.

Dow is no longer a supervisor at an oilfield company or living the oilfield lifestyle. Dow is working part-time at the Canadian Paraplegic Association in Red Deer and is considering taking more education to become a civil engineering technician.

“Today when I hear about someone who kills someone in a drinking and driving accident, I feel for the family but I also think about that guy who was driving,” said Dow.

“I feel for him because that could have been me. And what he has to go through for the rest of his life because he made a bad mistake.”

Dow doesn’t drink much these days. He has his own place and his car is equipped with hand gears so he can drive.

Sure, the 25-year-old says, he thinks about what his life could have been if he did not get into the truck that night.

“I worked in the oilfield,” said Dow. “(Drinking) was an everyday thing. Not to get drunk everyday (but) five or six drinks every day for sure. Most of the time we would drink and drive. You don’t even think about it back then. Now I wish I did. It’s everybody on the road you are affecting. It’s not just yourself.”

Dow would like people to learn from his story and consider the consequences before drinking and driving. He said it is not the people who have two or three drinks who are causing the accidents, but the people who are overdoing it and getting behind the wheel.

“Now I don’t make nearly as much money but I have more because I am not drinking or doing drugs,” he said. “Overall, I am a lot happier person and I am closer to my family.”

Allen echoed Dow’s words. “Of course, I have regrets” she says. “I only have myself to blame.” but she would like others to learn from her experiences, seek help when they need it and leave their vehicles at home.

crhyno@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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