Mary Williams

Mary Williams

DEADLY CHOICES: Woman compelled to action after son’s death

Losing a son to a drunk driver propelled a Red Deer mother to create MADD’s first chapter west of Ontario in 1993.

Losing a son to a drunk driver propelled a Red Deer mother to create MADD’s first chapter west of Ontario in 1993.

Mary Williams never thought she would end up becoming a victims’ advocate on behalf of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but her new purpose would come after a summer night on July 3, 1986.

Mary and her husband Raymond were expecting that Andy, the youngest of their four sons, would come home promptly from a bike ride as he had done so many times before. But when dusk fell, Mary knew something was wrong.

The parents searched a big hill that their son liked to cycle on in Dundas, Ont. When they returned home, they saw the police car. The officers were already inside, knocking on the couple’s door. Raymond told his wife to remain in the car while he went upstairs.

Two officers then came down and asked her to go with them. No one said a word. When she entered the apartment, her husband stood there looking awful. In her own written words, Williams described what happened next.

“Then one officer said, ‘We shall need you to come down and identify the body.’ I was consumed with rage and said, ‘What body? What are you talking about?’ ”

A drunk driver, who was almost three times more than the legal limit, had struck Andy at the top of the hill a few hours earlier, at about 8 p.m.

The couple faced the grim reality of identifying their 16-year-old’s body in the hospital morgue. The shock would later turn to rage at the court’s leniency in dealing with their son’s killer. The Crown allowed the 33-year-old driver to only plead guilty to impaired driving. The .08 charge and the impaired driving causing death charge were withdrawn. The part-time Crown prosecutor had called their son’s death an “unfortunate fatality.”

The driver received 30 months in jail, but it’s likely he only served nine months, said Williams, now 76. It wasn’t the first impaired driving conviction for the driver.

Williams has heard other stories of impaired drivers who kill and yet received short jail sentences. It’s a painful reality for many families.

“I think mine was the worst case scenario,” she said. “You tell me — how could (the driver) get away with just the one charge?”

The couple moved to Red Deer, along with another son, in 1990. Williams would go on to join the RCMP Victim Services Unit and with the encouragement and help from the RCMP and fellow victim services advisors, Williams created the first MADD chapter for Red Deer and district.

The Red Deer district MADD’s inaugural meeting was on Sept. 22, 1993, and, shortly after, members jumped right into Project Red Ribbon — a public awareness campaign focused on the Christmas holiday season.

“There was no paperwork to go with the ribbons, so we designed special little information tags to attach to each ribbon, and the ribbons came in a great big spools, about 24 inches in diameter,” said Williams, whose husband died in 2009. “Raymond spent hours and hours cutting those ribbons for us, talk about unsung heroes!”

Williams started with no financial help. There were no grants to apply for like today. She sought dollars for the first road banner and she designed the chapter’s first pamphlets.

Today, Williams is still a member of MADD, but is no longer actively involved. Her passion for starting the group is well recognized by those who slug it out for MADD today.

“It wasn’t something I wanted to do at all,” said Williams. “It was something I felt I had to do.”

Aleta Neville, president of the Red Deer area chapter, and husband Rick said that many people wouldn’t know that Red Deer had the first MADD chapter in Western Canada and that it was due to Williams’ efforts.

The Nevilles joined MADD after losing their middle child to a drunk driver on March 17, 2006.

Brent Neville, a 21-year-old Red Deer College student, was a passenger in a vehicle driven by friend Robert Alan Cook, who was impaired. The vehicle struck a pole in Calgary and Brent was killed at 2:50 a.m.

Red Deer Mounties Scott Barber and George Stephenson, Brent’s godfather, knocked on the door at 10:30 a.m.

Cook was sentenced to 27 months in jail, with a five-year driving prohibition, after pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death. The young man served one-third of his sentence, said the Nevilles.

They created a website in memory of Brent and they thought it would be a great idea to link it with the national MADD website. They attended an annual MADD vigil conference in Vancouver and shortly after, they joined the Red Deer and District chapter. Aleta has been president for the past two-and-a-half years.

Rick does all the death notification training in Western Canada for MADD. He teaches fire, police, military and victim services personnel what to say to someone who has lost a loved one.

The former Mountie said that such training is fairly scant in a lot of emergency services training. He’s a security advisor with energy giant Encana Corp., which sponsors the training.

“We desperately need volunteers,” said Aleta, who serves as the victim services volunteer. “Most have been veterans for 10-plus years.”

More volunteers are critical as the chapter conducts fundraising events. The money which stays in the region. Volunteers don’t have to be victims of drunk driving.

“The victims have big passion, but the non-victims often show more energy and they can bring a lot of ideas,” said Aleta. The Nevilles say that Alberta’s tougher impaired driving legislation, introduced last summer, will help. This includes introducing penalties for drivers who have blood alcohol levels of .05 to .08. Police now have the ability to issue an immediate three-day licence suspension and three-day vehicle seizure.

With a blood alcohol concentration of .05, an individual has 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

“We’ve been hearing from the public how it will change people’s attitudes about drinking and driving,” said Rick.

They were pleased to hear recent statistics from the B.C. government, which said that the tougher drunk driving laws brought in there two years ago helped reduced the number of impaired driving deaths by 46 per cent.

“My biggest fear on the horizon is the use of drugs and driving,” said Rick. “There’s a push for decriminalizing marijuana in B.C. If they start doing that, people will be able to smoke dope and drive, with minimal consequences.”

Meanwhile, Edmonton lawyer Fred Kozak, representing four clients, filed the first constitutional challenge to Alberta’s new impaired driving legislation. An immediate suspension unfairly punishes a person before there’s any determination they’ve done anything wrong, Kozak said.

In some cases, it forces innocent people to plead guilty, he said.

“I view drinking and driving as a serious social issue and I think that it warrants serious penalties for those who are convicted of an offence, but tough measures should be fair,” Kozak said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

Chopped Canada-winning chef Pete Sok is trying to focus on the future as he reopens Boulevard Restaurant and Lounge in the Holiday Inn on Gasoline Alley during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer’s celebrity chef looks past the pandemic with new restaurant opportunity

Pete Sok is reopening Boulevard Restaurant — and betting on the future

The Red Deer Rebels hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first game of the shortened 2020-21 season on Friday. The two teams faced off again in Medicine Hat Saturday (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels fall to Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday

Tigers 7 Rebels 2 The Red Deer Rebels have lost two straight… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read