Darren Keeler - MADD Project Red Ribbon - Calgary Launch Event [13 Nov 2014]

Good morning ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Darren Keeler. I've been asked by my very good friend Denise Dubyk and MADD Calgary to say a few words at today's ceremony on behalf of Victims of Impaired Driving, those who have been injured as well as those who have lost their lives to such a predictable...and preventable tragedy. I am very humbled by the opportunity to speak on behalf of those who have lived through such adversity, and to be the voice for those who are no longer with us to tell their story themselves.

For me, this journey started in the early morning hours of March 31st, 2012. My son was with friends at a party in Sylvan Lake Alberta. It was around 3 o'clock in the morning when the boys decided it was time to get heading back home to Red Deer. They'd been out celebrating my sons friends coming birthday. They planned ahead. They had a sober designated driver. The boys were always very good about ensuring a safe ride home was part of their plans. They left the party, climbed in their friend’s car, and started for home, with about a 20 kilometer drive ahead of them. It was just another night...another night where they'd planned things right, another night of fun and celebration. There was no indication of what was to come.

The boys made it about 3/4's of the way back to Red Deer when they suddenly encountered mechanical problems. The car had flooded, lost power and died. The boys were in an area, not ideal, on Hwy 11A, in the pitch of night, on a road with close shoulders. They activated their 4 ways and tried numerous times to start the car, not realizing that their attempts were only making matters worse, and after some time they had worn the battery on the vehicle down. That’s when the idea came to them to get out and push, in hopes of starting their broken down vehicle. Little did they know that at that same time a woman named April Beauclair was leaving Sylvan Lake and heading eastbound toward Red Deer. A woman who had been drinking heavily and smoking drugs, and she was coming right for them.

April herself had been out also celebrating her coming birthday. She was in Sylvan Lake with friends and at first glance had been making the right choices as well. They were dropped off at a bar named Chef's in Sylvan Lake where they had consumed quite a few drinks and multiple shooters throughout the evening. At the end of the night at the bar, they too had a safe ride that came and picked them up and after the bar they returned to her friend’s house where they had a few more drinks and smoked a joint. Then her friends pulled out their sofa bed, made April a place to sleep, got her pyjamas on and got her into bed before they themselves called it a night. They had taken April’s keys. Everybody was safe. This is where everything started to unravel...

April was having a hard time sleeping. The court was told she tossed and turned and after about an hour she decided she wanted to go home to her own bed. She got up, she rifled around and found her keys, and still wearing her pajamas she had packed to stay over, she got into her car, stopped off at Tim Horton’s for a coffee, and she started for home. 14 kilometers later...14 kilometers later my son was dead. 14 kilometers later his friend Tyson was fatally injured. 14 kilometers later a nightmare became reality.

Colton was killed instantly. He had suffered mass trauma when they were hit from behind as they pushed that car. He was thrown into the air, nearly completely smashing through her windshield before being thrown over and into the ditch. My only thankfulness is in that they told me he didn't suffer, as his life ended when his neck was broken. Tyson on the other hand...Tyson wasn't quite so lucky. Tyson was pinned between the vehicles and immediately lost a leg, and had the other crushed, along with he himself inflicted by mass trauma to his chest and head...but he was still alive...laying there bleeding out on the side of that highway. Tyson was Stars off that highway to the Foothills Hospital in Calgary, where he fought like hell for 6 more days, through his 18th birthday, before he to succumbed to his injuries and passed away. It was 3:33 in the morning. Little did we know at the time that very soon there was going to be a knock at the door, a knock that would bring the most horrible news a parent could ever hear, and change all of our lives forever.

Here is where my speech defers our story for the time being, here is where I want to talk about our first responders. The look in the eye of those two officers that came to our door, and how I could see it in their faces that they would rather have been anywhere else in the world then where they were that morning, standing at our door telling us that our son was dead. That he was hit by an Impaired Driver. That he was never coming home. But they did their duty, they did a job that is dreaded amongst members, they were there with news that ruins lives and sends people into the worst periods of their lives, they were delivering a death notification to the next of kin.

I now reside in Sylvan Lake. Sylvan and Red Deer really aren't that big of places, and over time and purely by chance, I have met some of the men and women that were involved that morning out on that lonely dark highway. In one such meeting I was at a pancake breakfast put on by our emergency services and found myself siting at a table with a number of RCMP and Red Deer County Firefighters. We were talking and I relayed to them that it is very important for me now to support our first responders, as my son had been killed some time back out on 11A, when one of the firemen asked me if it was the wreck that claimed the two young men’s lives, and I replied yes, that was it. It was at that moment you could have heard a pin drop. There was a silent awe about the table before one of the men seated with me proceeded to tell me that virtually every person at that table were the ones who responded that night. They told me how sorry they were about my son’s death and I heard about how hard they fought to keep Tyson alive and as that chopper lifted off that morning, that all they could do was hope that their efforts had been enough. I told them that their efforts were more then enough, considering the insurmountable odds that Tyson faced, and if it wasn't for them, he would never had any chance at all...and I thanked them. I thanked them not only for our families, but for every other family in that region that those men and women fight like hell for, and put it all on the line day in and day out for. I thanked them for doing a job not very many people really are equipped to do. After we finished our breakfasts and had a coffee, I got up to leave. I thanked them again and said my goodbyes, and that was when an RCMP officer asked if he could walk me out. As we left the firehall that officer told me how he was on scene that morning, and how deeply affected he had been by the accident that claimed our boys lives. He told me how he struggled some after that accident, and he told me that to this day he still visits the memorial our families and friends had erected for our boys, and he told me that he now follows my efforts on facebook and in the community to bring light to these tragedies and to raise stop Impaired driving, and how since that night how very important it is to him to do everything in his ability to do the same, to break the scourge Impaired driving has beset upon our community. That conversation ended with what started as a handshake but turned into a hug. I made what will surely be a lifelong friend that day.

My point here is to shed light not only on the victims and their families of impaired driving, but on the OTHER victims of impaired drivers, our first responders. The police, the firefighters and the medics who also live with the horrors which result from this crime. No one can tell me that they can do these jobs and respond to these scenes...witness what they witness, without leaving a piece of themselves at these horrible wrecks. What has been seen can NOT be unseen, and they carry that every day of their lives, and still do what they do. Ladies and gentlemen, in my books, that is the makings of an unsung hero. And we thank you, from the very bottoms of our hearts for doing what you ladies and gentlemen do.

Today, I will also briefly touch on the courts in this country. There isn't anything I can say today that most of you in this room do not already know about the courts. While our penalties for impaired driving have risen at a provincial level, they fall sadly short at the federal, and everybody knows it. There is no deterrence in cases of Impaired Driving causing Death, and changes MUST be made at the federal level. I could go on and on today about the courts and Corrections, and I won't even get started about the Parole Board or we will be here all afternoon. So instead, I'm going to speak directly to the NOT put too much stock in these systems, they will not bring our loved ones back, you will not see suitable justice in the names of those we've loved and those we've lost, and it will NOT heal your broken hearts. In fact, it will only make them worse. Don't let this system diminish your power any more than it already has been by the loss and the injury you've sustained. Today I implore you, instead of allowing this system to tear you down even more, funnel that energy into change. Join the advocacy push for change to legislation. Sign the petitions, and have friends and family sign them as well. Cancel out the negative you will or have experienced and use that energy to promote POSITIVE change, to promote the fact that Impaired Driving is wrong. Use that power to change our society.

In closing, I would like to relay the story of how I became involved with MADD Canada. It was a couple of months after the boys were killed and I heard on the radio that MADD Red Deer was holding a Charity Checkstop, so I grabbed my two young guys and off we went, something told me it was important for us to go there and to donate to this cause. Once we got there it quickly became apparent why, as that was the day that I met what I've often since referred to them as the two "Angels on earth," Denise Dubyk and Louise Knox Twerdy. When we got to the checkstop, we pulled up and I rolled down my window to what I would later realize was a miracle. When I told the ladies my name they knew exactly who I was. Denise wasted no time in ordering us to pull over, that she would love to talk with us, so that’s what we did. They knew all about us. They knew what happened. They knew what we were experiencing. That was the start of the healing. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking as they got my young guys to suit up and join them in working that Checkstop, and we've worked every one since that day. It felt good to meet people who knew what we were going through, what we were experiencing. Since then, MADD Canada has twice flown us out to Toronto to take part in their National Conference for Victims of Impaired Drivers and the Candlelight Vigil of Hope and Remembrance, and I can never thank them enough, because through those conferences my sons have had the rare opportunity to meet others who have also lost parents and siblings, or were themselves injured by impaired drivers. It helped them to relate. It helped them to grow, and it helped them to realize they weren't all alone in the loss of their big brother. It helped them to heal. It helped us all to heal...that is something I can never thank MADD Canada enough for. The realization that we are not alone is very powerful. It can even help to mend a broken heart.

I thank you for coming out today and supporting MADD Calgary and MADD Canada, and for supporting Project Red Ribbon. Let’s do everything we can to raise awareness of the dangers of Impaired Driving, and let’s further our support for those who heal broken hearts.

Thank You

We Remember Colton

We Remember Tyson


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Last updated on: 2014-12-23 | Link to this page