There's been a 92 per cent spike in impaired driving charges by Windsor police from 2013 to 2018

Nancy Ondejko, left, and her husband Jim, right, each hold up a favourite photo of their daughter Jessica, who died after being struck by an impaired driver

Jim and Nancy Ondejko vividly recall every detail when arriving to the emergency room, learning their 22-year-old daughter died during a collision with an impaired driver — virtually every bone below her chest crushed.

Jessica Ondejko died at the age of 22 after being struck head-on by an impaired driver. 

Even though 11 years have passed — and education around drunk driving has increased — impaired driving charges are still on the rise.

"It makes us so angry," said Nancy. "It's such a senseless tragedy, senseless beyond words."

The anniversary of Jessica's death — May 8, 2008 — is the most difficult day for her family. It's now a sombre tradition to attend the cemetery to reminisce about Jessica's charisma, vibrant smile and "drama queen" personality.

"To this day, I struggle to get out of bed every morning," said Jim. "Do I really want to get up and face the world today? Is some idiot going to cross the line again? And is it my turn today?"

Jim Ondejko said some days it's difficult to get out of bed, even 11 years after his daughter Jessica was killed. 

The crash happened at around 7 a.m. on County Rd. 20 back in 2008, in Amherstburg, when an impaired driver crossed the centre line. Jessica's car was destroyed, and first responders had to cut off the roof to remove her, before she was rushed to hospital.

"I started to cry. My emotions got the best of me," said Jim.

More recently, impaired driving charges across our region have gone up. And for Nancy it makes her cringe as she knows "what those poor families are going to be going through."

  • Sarnia police report an 46 per cent increase in impaired driving charges, from 2016 to 2019.
  • Essex County OPP saw a 49 per cent increase for the same offence from January to September, compared to the same time last year. 
  • Windsor police say there's been a 92 per cent spike in impaired driving charges from 2013 to 2018. 

Even Windsor Regional Hospital's emergency department is noticing a "significant" trend over the past five years.

Cannabis or THC is showing up as the number one drug for severe traumas among people ages 16 to 24, according to WRH. And nearly 50 per cent of the time one of those youth visit the ER for a serious injury, it's linked to a motor vehicle collision.

'We have to keep reminding people'

Chaouki Hamka, community leader with MADD Windsor and Essex County, said it's concerning to see impaired driving charges are up in parts of the region. 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Windsor and Essex County admits it may sound like a broken record, but clearly the education is vital, now more than ever.

"We have to keep reminding people. Some people need to hear it, unfortunately three, four, five, six times before it sinks in," said Chaouki Hamka, community leader with MADD Windsor and Essex County.

He believes it should be society's morale obligation to abstain from impaired driving. Hamka is also pushing for more "effective" legislation to combat the increasing issue.

"Yes it is concerning, but at the same time I'm hopeful that the increase is due to police being out there tackling impaired driving," he said.

New MADD signs across Windsor-Essex

In July, MADD installed 126 new signs across Windsor-Essex reminding people to report impaired drivers and to pull over when calling 911.

Daughter's death takes immense toll on family

Six weeks after Jessica's death, Nancy said she was suddenly struck by "immense darkness" and thoughts of suicide began to surface.

"I didn't want to live anymore. The pain is so immense ... you just want to end the pain," she remembers saying to herself at home, alone, while her husband was at work.

Jessica Ondejko died on May 8, 2008. 

The realization that her daughter was never coming back hit her all at once.

"You're still waiting to hear the back door slam that she's home. You're still waiting to hear the shower running and at that moment it finally sunk in. You're never going to hear that ever again," Nancy said, adding Jessica was the last of three girls to live with her parents.

When her husband Jim came home from work that day to find out his wife thought about suicide, he took three years off work.

"I couldn't take the chance going back to work knowing she had those thoughts," he said. "The most important thing in my life became keeping her alive."

Eventually, Nancy remembered a little magnet on the fridge. On it, a mental health hotline that she called and spoke with someone for nearly 45 minutes. Once she calmed down, Nancy was connected with a social worker from the Canadian Mental Health Association, where she attended a bereavement group with her husband.

Nancy Ondejko points to a glass angel in her sun room that reminds her of her daughter Jessica. 

Now, she finds solace sitting in her sun room with glass angels collecting sunlight through the window, reminding her of Jessica.

"It's taken me 11 years even to start baking a cookie [again]," she said, because the two bonded over baking.

Part of the couple's healing process is sharing Jessica's story, and how severely a "senseless" act of impaired driving changes many lives forever.

To this day Jim questions why someone would make such an irresponsible choice.

"You do not have the right to get into a 3,000 lbs vehicle while you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs," Jim said. "You don't have the right to threaten someone else's life."

Source: CBC News



Last updated on: 2020-04-11 | Link to this post