Feb 02, 2016 - "IT'S DEVASTATING"


Family members of drunk driving victim disheartened they never had a say in Ronald Thistle’s parole hearing


Terry Coates, whose son Nicholas was killed by a drunk driver in 2013, and his wife Patricia Coates, are heartbroken that Ronald Thistle, the man responsible, will be free on parole Wednesday, but they vow to continue the fight against impaired driving.

Terry Coates never misses a day to visit his son’s grave.

“That’s the Cobra he fixed up,” Terry said, smiling and pointing to the sports car etched on Nicholas Coates’ headstone, located in the back of a Conception Bay South churchyard.

“And that’s his dog,” Terry’s wife, Patricia Coates, says, pointing to another etching in the corner, not far from a portrait of Nicholas’s smiling face.

They only wish they could see that smiling face in person.

“It’s still so hard,” Terry said.

Twenty-seven-year-old Nicholas Coates was killed in August 2013 after Ronald Thistle, who was driving drunk, pulled out of a side street onto Kenmount Road in St. John’s, in front of Coates’ motorcycle.

The 69-year-old Kilbride man pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death and in April 2015, after an emotional hearing at Newfoundland Supreme Court, he was given a two-year jail term.

On Friday, Coates’ family was informed by the National Parole Board that Thistle will be released from prison Wednesday after serving just nine months behind bars.

The family was in shock, since they were supposed to have their say at Thistle’s parole hearing.

But due to what the board told them was a clerical error, their application to participate in the hearing was misplaced and the hearing went ahead without them.

“When they called and told us, it was like someone punched me in the stomach,” Coates said Tuesday.

“It’s like I lost Nicholas all over again. … (Thistle) gets nine months. Nicholas got a life sentence.”

Patricia Coates said the news was “heartbreaking.”

“It really upsetting to us because we were supposed to have our say. Victims should have a voice,” she said.

“We wanted to reiterate how senseless drunk driving is and wanted to tell him again just what he took away from us.

“He gets to go home, but we’re left with a hole in our heart that will never be repaired. It’s devastating to us.”

She said the parole board apologized and they’ve accepted there’s nothing they can do about it now.

The only thing they can do is continue the fight against impaired driving. The couple has been working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to spread the word about the dangers.

“Our focus is on Nicholas’s memory and trying to help make people realize that society needs to change,” said Patricia Coates, who hopes stiffer laws will be put in place for impaired driving.

“People have to be accountable for their actions. We want zero tolerance.”

Donald Slaney, president of the MADD Avalon Chapter, said four people are killed every day by drunk driving in Canada, while 175 per day are injured.

“The laws are not (stringent) enough,” Slaney said. “For an impaired driving (who caused a death) to be released from prison after one-third of his sentence, that’s disheartening. That does not send a strong message.”

“We just hope the authorities will learn from this experience and ensure that this does not happen to another family.”

Source: The Telegram


Last updated on: 2016-09-05 | Link to this post