The faces of impaired driving

Victims lend their voices to RCMP initiatives

Jeremy (left) and Kali O'Dell work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the RCMP to raise awareness about impaired driving after their parents were killed in a crash in 2006. Credit: J Division

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Kali and Jeremy O'Dell were 12 and nine years old when an impaired driver on the highway outside of Moncton, N.B., struck their minivan in the fall of 2006.

The impact of the crash killed their parents, Laura and Gregory, who were in the front seat. Since the accident, the O'Dell children have worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the RCMP to help raise awareness about impaired driving.

Last fall, Insp. David Vautour, the officer in charge of operations for the Codiac Regional RCMP, says he decided to get the O'Dells involved in a program to acknowledge the efforts of members that go above and beyond for impaired driving enforcement.

Members that have achieved a certain number of impaired driving charges will be recognized each year and made a part of "Team O'Dell." Last December, they inducted their first dozen members into the team.

"The irony was that a couple of the members that became part of Team O'Dell had attended that call back in 2006," says Vautour. "So that was kind of sad in a way, but their efforts are now being recognized."

Vautour got the idea from an initiative in E Division, Alexa's Team. Alexa Middelaer was a four-year-old girl from Delta, B.C. On a Saturday afternoon in May 2008, she was feeding a horse on the side of the road with her aunt and grandparents, when she was struck and killed by an impaired driver.

Shortly after their daughter's death, Laura and Michael Middelaer attended a traffic safety meeting with all the traffic managers in B.C. to ask what they could do to help.

Present at that meeting, Insp. Ted Emanuels, the officer in charge of the enhanced traffic services program in E Division, was moved by the Middelaer's drive to help create change.

"They were these people who said, 'We're not prepared to be victims of this. We have the ability to do something and we want to do whatever we can to help'," says Emanuels.

In the six years since they launched the program, they've recognized 1,321 members of Alexa's Team, who've taken more than 50,000 impaired drivers off B.C.'s roads. And in the last three years, B.C. has seen a 52 per cent drop in impaired driving fatalities.

"When Alexa was killed, it demonstrated those innocent parties affected by impaired driving," says Emanuels. "She wasn't coming from the bar, she wasn't a vehicle driver, she was an innocent victim and everyone in the province really connected with her."

In the Codiac Region, impaired driving charges were up 35 per cent over the last six months of 2013. They even received a call about a suspected impaired driver during the press conference announcing the initiative. Because of that call, members were able to intercept and arrest a 28-year-old man driving under the influence — something Vautour says is encouraging.

"We know we don't get half the calls we could get," says Vautour. "Every time somebody calls us, we might be able to prevent an incident like what the O'Dells have gone through. The public has to understand that if they call us, we can save lives together."

Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 3, 2014).

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