On Sunday, July 23, 2000, Eva Gainer’s life changed forever.
Because a male driver decided to get behind the wheel of his Silverado truck that day, already impaired by alcohol coupled with taking prescription medication, Gainer was involved in a car accident that claimed the life of her husband Don and 11-year-old son Bryan, while a family friend was left paralyzed.
One minute, Eva was driving home with her family members and friend through Blackstock, Ont., the next thing she remembers is waking up in the ICU of a hospital suffering from a broken arm, two collapsed lungs, six broken ribs, lacerated spleen and other internal injuries.
Her friend Kathy was badly injured and suffered a stroke two days after the accident, which doctors later thought was caused by a small leak in her artery caused by the seatbelt strained against her neck in the collision.
The stroke left Kathy’s life forever changed—paralyzed on her right side from the stroke she was never able to drive again, she never married, never had kids, and had to live with her parents so she could be cared for.
“Her mother is 93 now and just called me the other day to see if I could look after Kathy,” said Gainer, director of victim support for the MADD Central Okanagan chapter.
The trauma extended beyond the accident scene, as the Gainers had another son and daughter waiting at home in Oshawa for their parents and brother to return that night.
Instead they were greeted by a knock on the door from local police officers, who had to tell them their father and brother were dead, and mother seriously injured.
“To this day, my kids and I have never been able to talk about that night,” she said.
While in the case of their accident, the impaired driver was also killed in the head-on collision, Gainer said often the drivers end up with reduced sentences for making a selfish decision to drink and drive while their victim’s and loved ones’ lives are changed forever.
Gainer shared her personal story at the kick-off to the Project Red Ribbon campaign at the Kelowna firehall on Enteprise Way Saturday morning. Representatives from the local police and fire departments were on hand to reinforce the message behind the campaign, as were local politicians.
Project Red Ribbon is an initiative Mothers Against Drunk Drivers started 27 years ago to draw attention to people making the choice to not drink and drive. Canadians are encouraged to attach the ribbons to their cars, keychains, purses and backpacks.
“Drinking and driving kills,” said Kelowna RCMP Insp. Gord Stewart. “The choice to drive or not after having been drinking is yours. Please make the responsible choice.”
Stewart said one of the worst tasks that a police officer must carry out is to visit the house of a victim of an impaired driving accident and tell their family members that their mother, father, child or relative is dead.
It is one of many reasons, Stewart said, why every RCMP police car will be adorned with the symbolic ribbon. It’s also why the police endorsed a proposal by MADD adopted by the city to post nine 911 signs around the city alerting the public to call if they see signs of someone driving while impaired.
Tina Harder, a volunteer for the MADD Central Okanagan chapter, experienced the loss of her nephew, her sister’s 35-year-old son, in Winnipeg. Her nephew was on his bike peddling to work at 4 a.m. on Dec. 23, 2012, when he was hit by a drunk driver.
She said the impaired driver pulled over to the side of the road and sat on the curb near the accident scene, but was probably too drunk to realize what had happened. The driver is now in court having pleaded not guilty to an impaired driving charge.
“The sad part is this is all preventable. We don’t need to drink and drive. I am willing to pound on every door in this community if I have to, to get that message through people’s heads,” Hardin said.
“I have two sons and three daughters, and grandkids, and I can’t imagine not being able to say I love you to each of them every day. My sister has had to go through that and I can’t imagine how hard that must be.”
Hardin said ideally there will come a time when MADD won’t have to exist anymore, that the message to not drink and drive will have sunk in for everyone.
Kelowna city councillor Luke Stack echoed the sentiments of Hardin and Gainer, saying the city has adopted a zero tolerance for tragic accidents caused by impaired drivers this Christmas season.
“Zero should be our target. This is the season to celebrate but nobody who has been drinking needs to get behind the wheel of a vehicle,” Stack said.
Local MLA Norm Letnick demonstrated how he will be wearing a red ribbon on his keychain, saying there is ultimately no excuse for being impaired by drugs or alcohol while driving.
“There should be no tolerance for drinking and driving,” he said.