Dan and Brenda Lavallee hold a photo of their daughter Jillian near their home by the Bow River in Calgary, Alta., on Thursday, March 30, 2017. Jillian was killed by a drunk driver in 2015, and the Lavallees have since become spokespeople for Mothers Against Drunk Driving

When their daughter Jillian was killed in a motor vehicle collision two years ago, Brenda and Dan Lavallee experienced all the emotions that come with sudden, devastating loss.

Yet they didn’t let their grief paralyze them. Within days, the long-married couple went into action, joining with their daughter Caitlin to come to the aid of another family, strangers who shared in their tragedy. Soon, they raised money to help out Harpreet Kharbanda and her two girls.

Kharbanda’s husband Amritpal was driving Jillian home from a beer festival in the early hours of May 2, 2015, when a speeding SUV ran a red light and plowed into the side of the taxi, killing the 25-year-old recent university graduate and her 46-year-old driver.

The then-20-year-old driver of the SUV, Ali Montoya, was originally charged with three counts of impaired driving, two causing death and one causing bodily harm. 

In May of last year, he pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. This past November, Montoya was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

Jillian Lavallee is shown in a family photo on display at her funeral in Calgary, Alta on Saturday May 9, 2015. Lavallee was killed by an alleged drunk driver.

Less than six months after going through the difficult criminal court process, the Lavallees are once again turning their grief into positive action.

“We can’t change the past, but we hope we might be able to do something about the future,” says Dan, who recently joined the board of the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, known best by its acronym MADD. “It is a way for us to remember, to bring significance to our loss.”

Dan and Brenda are two of the organizers behind the second annual Golf “Fore” MADD, a fundraising golf tournament for the organization that strives to stop impaired driving and also support its victims.

“This is an organization that is exemplary when it comes to compassion for victims,” says Dan, who with his family set up a scholarship in Jillian’s honour at her alma mater, Trinity Western University. “We also wanted to help out in getting more attention to the issue, which is an urgent one.”

Their passionate support of the organization came after travelling to Toronto last year to attend a MADD Canada-sponsored annual gathering of Canadians who have lost loved ones from impaired driving. “We could talk about Jillian, our loss, openly, says Brenda. They found from talking to others that impaired driving charges are often dropped in favour of criminal negligence.

In this 2015 photo, Brenda and Dan Lavallee talk about their daughter, Jillian, who was killed by a drunk driver while in a taxi cab, along with the driver of the taxi cab, Amritpal Singh Kharbanda, and the unlikely new friendship the two different families have formed.

The meeting also gave them, says Brenda, insight into “how lazy our government is” when it comes to impaired driving laws and enforcement.

A 2016 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control backs her up: it found that among 19 wealthy countries, Canada is ranked number one when it comes to percentage of roadway deaths linked to alcohol impairment. Along with public awareness campaigns, MADD Canada advocates for such measures as mandatory breath screening on roadways and tougher sentencing.

“More than 1,200 people in Canada die in crashes every year because of impaired driving,” says Dan. “Those statistics are misleading, too, because when someone pleads guilty to a lesser charge, it’s not included.”

Along with joining forces with MADD Calgary to bring greater awareness and advocate for stronger enforcement and sentencing, Dan and Brenda continue to have a close relationship with Harpreet Kharbanda and her two daughters, Japnoor and Rishan. “It’s Noor’s birthday tomorrow,” says Brenda with a beaming smile, adding they will be there to help celebrate. “She has her driver’s licence now.”

To mark what would have been their daughter’s 27th birthday this past January 11th, Brenda and Dan once again sprung into positive action. They recently sent out a Facebook request for friends and family to send photos and share stories about Jillian, along with posting photos of them doing the kinds of things Jillian loved to do, like hiking and running.

“We are trying to make it easier for people to talk about Jillian,” says Brenda. “We find a lot of joy in talking about her.”

Source: Calgary Herald


Last updated on: 2017-04-14 | Link to this post