They were smiling, bright-eyed, many in their prime or just children.
The three posters of photographs displayed at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in downtown Red Deer on Saturday night showed just a fraction of the toll drunk drivers have taken on the roads around Red Deer and elsewhere.
Around 70 family members and friends gathered to remember loved ones who had been lost as part of the 17th annual candlelight vigil held by the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Rick Neville was at the service with his wife Aleta.
The couple lost their son Brent “Nev” Neville in March 2006.
He was just 21 years old and was finishing his business degree at Red Deer College, with plans to follow in his father’s footsteps and go into law enforcement, when he was killed.
“He was a wonderful 21-year-old boy who had a lot going for him. He was just starting his life,” said Rick, after the vigil.
Brent’s friend Robert Alan Cook was behind the wheel and had double the legal blood alcohol limit when he lost control and hit a traffic light standard. Brent, who was a passenger in the car, died at the scene. Cook was sentenced to two years in jail, with a five-year driving prohibition, last January.
“(Brent) was a great kid. He never caused us a moment’s grief,” said his mother Aleta.
The couple sought out MADD after losing their son and it brought them comfort.
Rick said the ceremony on Saturday helped them honour and remember their son, as well as support others in similar circumstances.
“We’re a family of the worst club in the world that has lost a child,” Rick said. “But we have to stick together in times like this in honour of our children and support each other.”
The Nevilles have set up a charitable organization called the Nev Foundation — Nev being the name Brent’s teammates called him — to support MADD, the new Ronald McDonald House and scholarships for local students.
Rick spoke during the service about the important work MADD does and the need for more volunteers. He also talked about the importance of holding the courts accountable and speaking out when judges make horrible decisions.
The vigil involved music and prayer and finally the calling out of 60 names of people who had been killed by drunk drivers, with RCMP members dressed in red serge escorting families to the front of the room to light a candle in their loved one’s memory. Others came afterwards to light candles for someone not on the list.
Local MADD chapter president Joan McIntyre said the sad part is that the names read don’t account for all of those lost to drunk drivers within Central Alberta or even in Red Deer. Only the names of the families who have approached MADD are read.
Among those lighting candles was Mary Williams, who started the local chapter of MADD 17 years ago. She said the local chapter has come a long way, but drunk driving is still a problem in the community.
Williams lost her son in 1986 in Ontario at age 16. He was riding his bike on a bicycle path when he was hit by a drunk driver whose blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
“It’s something you never get over,” Williams said. She still wears a pin with her son’s smiling face on her lapel. “He was looking forward to learning how to drive, but he never got there.”