A poignant, painful, passionate story

It’s a front page story… young mother killed in firey crash after oncoming vehicle swerves into her lane…impaired driver.

Or, newly retired grandfather hit head on by impaired driver coming against traffic on multi-lane divided highway.

Or, high school valedictorian headed to graduation hit head on by impaired driver with several convictions.

We read the headlines, our hearts moan for the families… and our lives go on.

But their lives are irrevocably changed. Forever.

When you work in the news industry, police reports cross your desk daily and it was this continuous flow of impaired reports filtering across Steve McEown’s desk that had the impact. Producer of First Local, Rogers daily news package, Steve had been dividing his duties between news and documentary production.

“I wondered, ‘why isn’t it getting any better?'” “And then I wondered, ‘is there something I can do about this?'”

Steve decided to localize these stories and produce a documentary that goes beyond the crash and into the pained, changed lives of the innocent victims of this senseless criminal act. For two months, he immersed himself in research, locating and making introductory calls to families whose loss of life had occurred when one person made the decision to drink and then power-up behind the wheel of a truck or car.

It took time to talk to people, to listen to their stories, to explain his project, to discuss the impact of arriving with a camera and lights and the public-ness of taking this truly into the public light. In effect, he was asking families to live it all again. He listened to fathers say they wanted personally to kill the driver who took life away from a child, or a spouse. He listened to tears of agony and regret as parents changed their economic wellbeing forever to care for a permanently injured child.

“While the rest of us go on with our lives, these people remain prisoned in their grief and their altered, emptier lives, and their anger.

March 18, Steve and Rogers were hosted by MADD Canada, Barrie Chapter, (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) at the MacLaren Art Centre as the documentary received its first public airing. Present were two of the families featured in the documentary.

It tells the stories of four families:
Susan and Bill Bolyea (Cumberland Beach) whose son Paxton was killed by an impaired truck driver. and Lori Bolyea who was riding her motorcycle behind her husband and saw the crash that took his life.

Peter and Eva Chagnon (Barrie) whose son Jason is still in hospital from an accident a few years ago that left him brain injured and severely disabled. Peter quit his job to devote himself totally to Jason’s rehabilitation… it has spelled tremendous financial stress for the family.

Brenda and Ben Wright (Port McNicoll) lost their daughter Laura Newey and their 9 year old grandson Jonathon, to a drunk driver. The Wrights also lost their firstborn son in 1992 to an accident… they are now childless. Jonathon’s father, Michael Newey (Barrie), lost his child.

Steve McEown applauds the bravery of the families, and the arresting police officers, who tell their stories. He shares the embarrassment of a drunk driver caught in a RIDE program, who has since stopped drinking and driving.

Steve’s surprise in doing the documentary is that not once did the impaired drivers ever call or stop in, or write to express their sorrow, their apology, for what their action caused. The simple act of apology, seems to have gone down the drain with the alcohol.

The half-hour documentary, called In Focus: After the Crash, is available for public and group viewing. Of course MADD will make use of this repeatedly and Young Drivers of Canada has expressed interest, as have school groups, and other organizations. (to order: rogers Television, 705 737-4660) In re-living a pain that never goes away, the surviving families hope is that one person will stop, change plans and hand the keys to a friend.

[On a personal note, I’ve felt for some time that an individual who gets into a vehicle having consumed alcohol knowing its debilitating powers of judgement… that person is no different than a person who picks up a weapon and heads out to take a life. While impaired driving rests in the criminal code, I believe it needs to move up the ranks to the murder category.]

Steve, thanks for the initiative, the thoughtfulness, and the skill with which you tell these stories. And to the Bolyeas, the Chagnons, the Wrights and the Neweys, thank you for your bravery to be willing to share your pain so publicly.