Last weekend in our county on Prince Edward Island, Canada, there were eight people in a population of 45,000, arrested and charged with impaired driving. A few weeks ago, a member of our family had a close call with an erratic driver whilst on the way to work. Drinking and driving is a serious problem in this province.
Several years ago, when we first moved to Summerside, I took a course in mystery writing. Our instructor covered the basics, then we explored the justice system in this province which included a trip to court to watch the proceedings for the morning.
It was plea day. Numerous people appeared in court to answer charges, many of whom had been in the jail downstairs overnight. There were many charges of impaired driving; most of the defendants were older men, many with a history of the same behaviour. There was one younger man with a first offense.
As I sat there, I was furious. With each new charge and person stood to face the judge, I became more angry. As time went on, it felt like my head would explode.
This anger arose from years ago when I was fifteen years old and one of my classmates was killed by an impaired driver. Her family was headed to Church on Saturday evening when a young man, leaving a club after an afternoon of drinking, hit their car. This was in the days prior to seat belt usage; she went through the windshield. She was a bright, capable young woman who did not have the chance to grow up.
Her parents were in hospital, so our class walked to the funeral home and sat vigil for her. In that room with the closed white casket, a glowing candle and the smell of dying flowers, we sat looking at that box, not believing that our classmate was there. I caught myself looking around to find her at one point, then realized she was gone forever. I did not understand what that experience had done to me until that day in court.
Fifteen year old Marie, in an older body, was sat in court that day, watching and listening. Before sentence was pronounced, lawyers, most often a legal aid lawyer, gave a history of the defendant. This information included the person's past offenses, the employment history and place of residence.
During that morning, it became obvious that the situations and tragedy were repeated from person to person. By the end of the session, I felt exhausted and needed time to process what had happened. The class went for coffee and speaking with the others, I realized the anger was gone, replaced with sadness for my friend and the people caught in the grip of alcohol, where a vehicle can become a weapon of self destruction and terror for others on the road.
Over the last few years, I have thought of those men, including the man who killed my friend. How has he lived with what he did that fateful day? Will my family or friends "meet" any of these impaired drivers on the road some day? What became of the young man who appeared for his first impaired driving offense? Has alcohol taken over his life as it had those older men? Is he one who will be appearing in court numerous times over the years? Will any of them be the cause of great tragedy for another family? Have they given the car keys to a designated driver, called a cab or walked home when needed?
My hope and wish is for each to find a life free of the influence.