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Memories remain for families of drunk driving victims


When Darlene Gabrielson heard emergency sirens in her neighbourhood she remembers thinking, “Please let it not be my son.”

Even after police officers showed up at her door, she was still praying that her son, Robert, was only injured.

But the reality was that her 21-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver as he was cycling back from the gym and would never make it home.

The fatal crash happened on Spruce Drive hill some 28 years ago, but Gabrielson still sheds tears at the memory of those nightmarish moments. She said she relives her loss every time she hears of another person killed in a drunk driving collision.

And there’s no shortage of them. On this 20th anniversary year of Red Deer’s MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) chapter, the pointless carnage continues, said Gabrielson, one of 80 people who attended a candlelight vigil Saturday night at St. Luke’s church in Red Deer.

At least nine Central Albertans are known to have died in drunk-driving related crashes since January, said Aleta Neville, president of the local MADD chapter — “and the year’s not over yet.”

Neville isn’t certain what will change people’s behavior, but is disappointed about the length of jail sentences imposed on impaired drivers who kill or injure people.

“The courts have the ability to give stiffer sentences (under existing laws), but maybe nobody wants to set a precedent.”

The driver who killed Gabrielson’s son in 1984 received a two-year jail sentence and spent six months behind bars.

The motorist who killed Mary Williams’s 16-year-old son in 1986 spent nine months in jail out of a 30-month sentence. He had three times the legal blood alcohol limit after swerving into a bike lane to hit cyclist Andrew Williams, as well as previous impaired driving convictions.

Some 26 years after her son’s death, Williams, who started the local MADD chapter as the first one west of Toronto in 1992, still thinks jail sentences need to be tougher — a conviction shared by many other Albertans.

Earlier this year there was public outrage over the prison time given to the driver who killed Red Deer parents Brad and Krista Howe in 2010. Chad Mitchell Olsen was allowed full parole after serving 16 months of his 3 1/2 year sentence.

“Nothing can make sense of the senseless loss of life on our highways,” said Neville in her speech at the vigil. For this reason, she wants to see every possible deterrence used to try to prevent people from entering their vehicles after drinking.

Some good news for MADD occurred earlier this fall when longer licence suspensions were imposed in Alberta against those driving close to the legal limit. “Everything helps,” said Neville, who lost her 21-year-old son, Brent, in a single-vehicle impaired driving crash in 2006. He was a passenger in a car that hit a lamp post.

Gabrielson believes every citizen can help prevent such tragedies by reporting erratic drivers to police.

She heard that the man who killed her son had been spotted driving unpredictably before the accident happened. If police had been alerted, perhaps Robert would be alive today, she added.

“Losing your child is like losing an arm or a leg. You get on with your life, but you never get over it. I miss (Robert) terribly and often wonder what his life would have been like, and whether I would have had grandchildren.”

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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