Five more reasons not to drink and drive - Personal stories from RCMP officers

Impaired driving is the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. RCMP officers are often the first on the scene at motor vehicle crashes and see how tragic the decision to drink and driving really is. They also see the hurt families experience when they’ve learned that a loved one has died.

RCMP officers from Atlantic Canada recall the crashes that have had an impact on them and also on the people and communities involved. These stories are personal accounts of what happened. The memories of these fatal crashes stay with the police officers, it’s the reality of what happens when a person drinks and drives.

Driving drunk is a choice. These officers hope that by sharing their stories a life or lives can be saved.

Cst. Donnie Robertson - New Brunswick

"Four people were in the car and only one survived"

In policing we are trained to expect the unexpected, to always be alert and to always be aware of our surroundings. The importance of this training hit home in an unexpected way in the early years of my first RCMP posting.

It was a November night and considering the time of year it was a nice evening. No snow had fallen yet and I was dispatched to a single vehicle crash. When I arrived, I found a smashed up car on its wheels. A young man in the car was alive when first responders arrived but unfortunately they were unable to save him.

As a police officer, it was my role to investigate the cause of the crash. While assessing the situation with another officer, we heard a noise coming from the woods next to the road. We all pointed our flashlights towards the trees.

As I walked a few feet into the woods, I saw a young man who was obviously seriously injured. I called out for help saying I found someone and as I said that, we found another young man who was unresponsive and died at the scene. As I looked up, the beam of my flashlight shines on another person, just a few feet away from me. This young man had also died as the result of his injuries. The reality of this crash immediately sinks in; four people were in the car but only one survived. The survivor remained in a coma for several days, but had no memory of the crash.

The collision reconstructionist determined that the car missed a turn, went off the road and struck a culvert. The vehicle flew about 200 feet (60 metres) through the air. None of the four occupants wore seatbelts and three of them were thrown about 100 feet (30 metres) from the vehicle into the nearby woods where only one survived. The investigation later determined that all four men had blood alcohol content levels above the legal limit.

This crash caused great heartache to the small rural communities where these men, all in their 20s, lived and further caused the friends and families of the victims to ask many questions about how something like this could happen.

In my 15 years as an RCMP officer I have responded to many impaired driving incidents. Each one is terrible in its own way but what each one has in common is that none of them had to happen. It all comes down to choices and choosing not to drink and drive.

Cpl. Janet Leblanc - Nova Scotia

"One lived and one did not"

I was working in Lunenburg County when the RCMP received a call that a parked ambulance had been struck by a vehicle. While EHS staff tended to a patient inside a local residence, a neighbour of the patient ended up driving into the ambulance.

While the scenario with the ambulance was unfolding, the RCMP were also called to a single-vehicle motor vehicle crash involving a lone male driver. Unfortunately, the occupant of the vehicle did not survive and he was pronounced deceased at the scene.

While it is not unusual for the RCMP to receive multiple calls at the same time, I will never forget the unfortunate and sad interconnectedness of these two cases.

Through the course of our investigation regarding the driver who struck the parked ambulance, it was discovered that he was impaired at the time of the collision. This man also stated that he had been drinking all evening with a friend at a local establishment. 

In a sad twist of fate, our investigation revealed that the man who died in the crash was actually the friend and drinking partner of the man who struck the parked ambulance.  When I had to tell the man that his friend had died, he almost fell to the floor in grief. 

At the end of the day, two friends went drinking at a bar and then decided to drive while impaired. Both males drove off separately, and both were in collisions within minutes of each other. One lived and one did not. 

I will always remember the pain on this man's face when I had to tell him about his friend, and I would love to know if this tragic event has prevented him from drinking and driving again. Because if this sad event couldn't stop someone from drinking and driving, what could?

Cpl. Janet LeBlanc has been a member of the RCMP for 18 years, and has carried out police work in three different Nova Scotia districts since 1997.   

Cst. Vanessa DeMerchant - New Brunswick

"What will stay with the scream"

I was just weeks away from marking my fourth anniversary as a member of the RCMP. I’d already gained experience in many areas but little did I know what I would experience one late October night. I was posted in a remote area where the communities are close knit because they are far apart. It was near one of these communities where I would get dispatched to my first impaired driving crash; a crash where someone would lose their life.

It was 1 a.m. and I was told by our dispatch that a single vehicle had struck a rock face along the edge of the highway and there was one person trapped in the vehicle. What I saw when I arrived at the scene was much different. The car was on fire and it looked like someone was still in the back of the vehicle. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do. The fire was hot and the car was fully engulfed in flames. I quickly searched around but could not find the driver or anyone else who may have been in the vehicle.
A crowd started to gather as people from the nearby community, where the young victim lived, started arriving at the crash scene to see what happened. After the crowd had left, a man arrived at the scene and he was totally distraught. There are things I will never forget from that night; it seems as if all of my senses had been affected. I can still feel the heat from the fire, the smell as everything was burning, but what will stay with me for the rest of my life is the scream the man let out when he got to the crash. This father had just lost his daughter.

The investigation was taken over by an RCMP collision reconstructionist as they are involved in looking into collisions resulting in serious injury or death. I would later learn that alcohol was a contributing factor to this fatal crash and that two other people were in the vehicle but survived.

The motor vehicle fatality statistics increased that day with another person losing their life as the result of impaired driving. What the statistics don’t reveal is how families, communities and first responders are affected. The statistics didn't reflect the heartache and anguish shared by the families and communities connected to this crash. This one I will carry for the rest of my life because I knew the young woman who died that night. Our paths had crossed many times at community events where she was helping her community by giving back. I saw she had a bright future; a future that her community will never be able to see or experience.

Cst. Douglas Baker - Prince Edward Island

“Her first words… ‘There’s a dead body’”

It was a regular start to a weekend summer shift, no different than any other. Performing traffic stops in the early evening hours and enjoying the sunshine, not knowing the horrific ending the shift would have.

I performed a traffic stop on a vehicle with a male driver, female passenger and another young male in the back seat. After checking all of the vehicle papers, ensuring no one was drinking and all were buckled up, I was happy to send them on their way as they told me they were headed to a party.

As I sat in my car waiting for them to depart, the young female passenger got out of the car and cheerfully skipped back to my vehicle and, through my passenger window said, “Could you give us a boost, the car is dead?” Without hesitation I pulled around, boosted their car and sent them on their way.

At about 2:30 a.m., I was on my way to drop off an auxiliary member who had joined me for the shift. We laughed and joked as we drove along, as we usually did. Little did we know the night was about to get gruesome.

As we made our way down the unlit rural road, I observed a car sitting at an intersection about to merge onto the road. As we approached, the car didn’t move so I became suspicious and slowed down. As I got closer, I could see a lone female standing on the road. She looked in shock. Her first words... “There’s a dead body.”

I got out of my vehicle to see a mangled wreck of a car down in a deep ditch. There was a body of a young girl lying on an embankment....obviously dead. The driver of the vehicle had made it out of the wreck and went to the only nearby house, that of the witness I had met on the road.

It was the same vehicle I had pulled over earlier.

The driver of the vehicle swore it was only him and his girlfriend in the vehicle...over and over...despite my knowing another male was with them earlier. A search of the immediate area turned up nothing.

Not until daybreak did we find the body of the other male, some 100 yards from the scene. He had been catapulted from the wreck like a marble in a slingshot.

Two young adults were dead. As it turns out, the driver was later found to be intoxicated and high and had passed out behind the wheel. The one good decision he made was to put on his seatbelt which saved his life.

In the morning we went to deliver the terrible news to the families. I spoke with the brother of the deceased female and the mother of the deceased male; they all lived in the same house. They had traveled to the province to work for the summer before returning home. They were completely devastated. It was an unimaginable image.

Two lives were lost that night, many changed forever, mine included. The images of that innocent 20 year-old woman skipping back to my car and wondering what had happened in between – and if there was anything different I could have done haunt me to this very day.

Sgt. André Pepin - New Brunswick

"As a mom, she knew something was wrong"

As a qualified breathalyzer technician for 23 years, I have had many encounters with individuals who were impaired. It’s common to hear them tell me, “I’ve only had a couple of drinks officer,” as I prepare to take a breath sample in order to determine their level of impairment. The breath test often indicated they should not have been driving; that they should have made a better choice or someone they knew didn’t stop them from getting behind the wheel.

I’ll never forget the night that I wished I had heard those words from one young man. It would have meant I stopped him from driving and that he was no longer behind the wheel of his car. Why? Because I ended up meeting him by way of a 9-1-1 call. I was dispatched to a single vehicle crash on a rural two lane secondary road. It was a warm summer’s night and the road conditions were dry. The call came in the middle of the night; he was probably the only car on the road. This man, in his 20s, was driving home from his birthday party. He lost control of his car, it went off the road and it crashed into a culvert and died.

I wish I knew what he was thinking and why he wanted to drive. I hope he wasn’t thinking “I’ve only had a couple of drinks.” This individual lived at home with his parents; it was my job to give them the bad news. I’ll never forget the look on the mother’s face or when she asked “What happened?” as we stood at the front door of their home. As a mom, she knew something was wrong.  She knew he was out celebrating his birthday and when she woke up that morning he wasn’t home. Instead, I arrived at the door.

It’s never easy and there’s no right or wrong way to deliver news to tell something that their son has died. I just wish people would make better choices and choose not get behind the wheel of a car after drinking because I can tell you that after 26 years in policing, telling someone they’ve lost a loved one never gets easier..

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