He watched his grandmother die; words from a survivor

In 2009, my 16-year-old step-son (the Dude) and his grandmother were out getting groceries for a family reunion camping trip. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. A beautiful day. Clear, sunny, and hot. Suddently, a 1-ton truck veered across the center line and plowed into them head on. Moments later, the Dude watched his grandmother take her last breath.

The guy who mowed them down was charged with impaired driving causing death. He was twice the legal limit but plead not guilty none the less. And after 20 months and well over a dozen court dates, we had a guilty verdict and it was time for sentencing. As part of the process, family members and friends were encouraged to write victim impact statements. The judge said that in all his years he had never received so many.

With The Dude’s permission, I’d like to share with you his victim impact statement. I warn you, his words will haunt you. 

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After the accident, and the loss of my grandmother, my life has change drastically. Right after it happened I had a few sleepless nights and they weren’t the last. These sleepless nights still occur and I don’t know if they will ever stop. Every now and then I have flashbacks of the condition my grandmother was in after the accident, rolling over to see the passenger side seat to see if I was still alive, and sleep is impossible. The wreckage from the accident was traumatizing and shocking experience. The ambulance ride; the cuts, scrapes and bruises on my face; the useless hope that my grandmother may be alive as I’m headed to the hospital, hoping I would have something more than just ashes to hold at Christmas.

Ever since the accident there’s been a hole in my life that just hasn’t, and never will be filled.

At our family gatherings it doesn’t seem like everyone is as connected as they used to be because my grandmother is gone. Every year we have a pumpkin carving day where our whole family gets together on Halloween and have a potluck and carve pumpkins. And it’s not as important to me or anyone else because she’s not there.

I resent having to celebrate Christmas every year.

Ever since I could remember she spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with my family and she made Christmas for me. Now that she’s gone I hate putting up the tree without her, and opening presents, and the whole process of Christmas depresses me. 

This depression carries on throughout my life daily, I’ve been told that I haven’t looked truly happy since the day of the accident by people I care about the most and it makes them sad for me and I’m sure it makes them feel unappreciated. At school there are days where something reminds me of that day, something as simple as a sandwich or someone talking about a family reunion, and I cry because of my experience.

Every year there are presentations about drunk driving at my school. One presentation tried to show the wreckage and damage that drunk driving can do to people. This was like my own personal hell. Stuck in a gymnasium, watching several images of “accidents” that looked exactly like the one that killed my grandmother, the one I was in, over and over again. I broke down crying, sitting in the middle of a crowd of 1800 of my peers. I was shaking, hyperventilating, and had to get out to be sick because I couldn’t handle it anymore. My marks have gone significantly down because of the sleepless nights, missing school to go to court, hoping that eventually I would finally see justice served for what was taken from me, my family, her friends, co-workers, and even the cancer patients at the hospital who looked forward to her daily visits.  

I miss the little things!

It’s funny the things you miss when you lose someone. I miss her calls that happen two days after my birthday because she couldn’t remember if it was the 17 or 19. I miss spending weekends with her and doing things that I’m sure she hated, just so she could spend time with her grandson. I miss taking care of her if she was sick and I miss her little car she was so proud of and basically could live out of if she needed to. 

That little car that was crushed instantly, along with my grandmother.

Being 16 when the accident happened, I just received my driver’s licence two weeks before the accident. I took the driver’s education course and opted out of learning to drive a standard vehicle. I’m thankful in more ways than you can imagine for this decision. I would have been the one killed in the accident if that were the case because I know my grandmother was excited to hear that I passed my driving test. She would have let me take that wheel and wanted to see me growing up, right before I would have died.

I’m grateful to be alive.

I feel like I can’t waste one second of my life because it could be taken away from me in the time it takes to snap your finger. I’m shocked that I am alive and didn’t receive any major injuries physically from this accident. Seeing the condition that car was in and knowing that somehow I managed to make it out alive is more than a miracle to me.

I travel very differently then I used to.

Whether I am driving or a passenger I cannot stop thinking that there is going to be a car come into my lane and kill me at any moment. I still have dreams about the day that it will happen to me. Oncoming traffic scares me more than I could describe, especially trucks and transport trucks. I’ve seen what happens when a bigger vehicle hits a smaller one more than once in my life. It results in death.

Overall I feel like I was forced to experience what it was like to be violently robbed a grandparent. See what it’s like to see someone you love with the back of their head missing; to see their jaw torn off on one side and just hanging there. To see her flesh ripped apart, her legs crushed and her throat sliced apart because the seat belt dug into her so deep she couldn’t breathe. And taking her last breathes trying to see if I was okay and alive. That image plays in my head at least once every day; usually more. No amount of counselling could ever fix that. No one should have to see that, and I hope to god that no one has to see a loved one, a member of their family, in the condition that I’ve seen my grandmother. No one deserves that kind of traumatization.

Please join me, hubby, and the Dude and take a stand against impaired driving!

Support MADD Canada and follow them on Facebook, Twitter (@maddcanada), and on the Web.

Today, I’d like to share only one other post with you:

  • August McLaughlin’s story about her fight with an eating disorder will move you to tears! It’s by far one of the most powerful posts I’ve ever read. Her journey to hell and back is both astounding and inspirational. Go read it now!
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Dear blog…it’s back to court we go…

Donna Kennie (1949-2009)

Well tomorrow is the big day; it’s back to court we go.

Trent Albert Mallet, who was found guilty of impaired driving causing death in February 2011, in relation to the car accident on August 1, 2009 that killed my mother-in-law, Donna Kennie, will be sentenced tomorrow; on what would have been her 62nd birthday! Finally this torturous trial will be behind us.

It’s not that the grief or pain will stop but at least this part of the process will be behind us and I think we will be able to start to heal. It’s closure for a wound that has been open and festering for over 18 months. It’ll be a huge weight lifted from our shoulders.

His sentence will never be enough. To be honest, it’ll likely be a slap in the face as Canadian impaired driving laws are laughable to say the least. You get more time for dealing marijuana than you do for driving drunk and killing someone. But at least he’ll be held accountable for his crime, which is more than most people in our situation get, giving that majority of impaired drivers who kill, aren’t even charged, let alone charged and convicted; the Canadian Criminal Code of Loopholes, as I like to refer to it.

Regardless, the system is what it is right now and we can’t change it for our immediate case. So we work within it and take the wins that we can!

I heard that there have been about 20 victim impact statements submitted for the judge to read. And there are a number of us who will be reading our statements aloud. I am sure it’ll be an emotional day to say the least.

I am nervous to read mine. I have no issue around public speaking and actually I welcome the opportunity but I am still nervous. I know when I get up there to speak my belly will be just churning, my palms will be sweating, my heart will be pounding, and my throat will feel like it’s suddenly the Sahara desert but that’s ok. Nothing will stop me from having my say. It’s the only opportunity we have to ensure that Trent hears how his choices and actions on that fateful day have affected us and how they will continue to affect us for the rest of our lives.

He gets to serve his time in jail, get out, and go on with his life, as if nothing ever happened while Donna’s family and friends are the ones left to serve a life sentence. We will miss and mourn the loss of this most spectacular woman, mother, and friend forever.

I will keep you posted tomorrow on the outcome. Stay tuned….

If you are just tuning in, catch up on the whole story with some related posts:

And just in case you are interested in getting involved (if you live in Canada): answer this Call to Action (for random breath testing, which will prevent these accidents from happening in the FIRST place).

Dear blog…I am not afraid to take the stand

Sorry for the delay in posts this week; I’ve been cheating on my blog. Alas, it’s for a good cause. Last night, I put the finishing edits on my victim impact statement (VIS) and now I feel like it’s ready to be sent into the courts.

As of right now, I plan to read it out loud in court. I want the no-good-piece-of-dirt-slime-bag that got drunk and slammed into Mamma K and Jordan, killing Mamma K, to have to sit there and hear my painful woes. It’s the least he can be forced to endure and won’t ever be nearly enough. That being said, victim services told us that there is a fair number of VIS being submitted (15-20). I told Scott that I would of course take a back seat if other members of the family would like to read out loud. I leave it to him and his family to decide.

Taking the stand and reading my statement out loud doesn’t make me nervous in the least. I’ve never had any issues around public speaking. I am quite comfortable standing in front of an audience, large or small, and speaking out (and to be honest, the bigger the audience, the better). I’ve done plenty throughout my life and I enjoy it greatly. I assume it has something to do with my love of being the center of attention, life of the party, and all around queen of the night! I know for some people, their nerves bubble up, their throat closes off, and the anxiety of the situation makes them want to run and hide under the nearest desk.

Of course I get nervous. I get a dry mouth. My heart starts pounding and my palms sweat. Sometimes I feel like I am about to throw up. My anxiety swells as I fear saying something wrong or that I don’t know what I am talking about. I get intimidated thinking people will hate it or even worse, hate me. But in the end, I love it all. I thrive on the adrenaline rush. I love the feeling of being fully alive, present and in the moment. Anyone who knows me isn’t surprised by this revelation. I really should have gone into acting.

Years ago, in a previous life, I was involved in pageantry and I fell in love with it. I loved everything about it; the beauty, the gowns, the stage, the interviews, the events, and the other contestants. And most importantly, I loved that I was involved in a pageant system that required contestants to have a platform; a cause to promote and bring public attention to (and the more, the better). I choose self-esteem and through pageantry, I was charged with “getting my message out” to the world. I was enthralled and exhilarated!

Throughout that year, I realize how much I loved public speaking. I had dozens of speaking engagements. I had the opportunity to bring opening remarks at fundraising events, I was a keynote speaker at meetings, I made guest appearances on local radio stations, and I presented a variety of seminars on self-esteem at workshops. I was passionate about sharing my experience and knowledge with others and was deeply fulfilled in doing so.

My days of pageantry are long over but I’ve been able to take that experience with me and apply it extremely well in my real life. And I think come April 5, 2011, if given the opportunity, I will put it to very good use once again!

How do you feel about public speaking; friend or foe?

A most important piece of writing

I am sitting here this morning staring at the screen gearing up to undertake one of the most important writing tasks I’ve ever taken on before; a victim impact statement.

Now that Trent has been found guilty of impaired driving causing death for the death of my mother-in-law; Mamma K (2009), we move into sentencing mode and this is where Mamma K’s family, friends, and coworkers finally have a venue to speak out.

In Canada, victims of a criminal offence may choose to write an account of how the crime has impacted their lives and submit it to the court upon a conviction and before sentencing. It’s a document that essentially outlines the physical, emotional and financial impact of the crime on the victim and their family. A victim impact statement is a way for victims to have a voice in the criminal justice system.

Writing and submitting a victim impact statement isn’t required. It is optional and we can each write and submit our own. Any impact statements written are then presented to the judge before sentencing. Most importantly, judges are required to consider the victim impact statements when sentencing offenders. This means that not only is each of our victim impact statements our “voice” in the system, but essentially we can each have an influence on Trent’s sentence. For us, this makes them extremely important.

As well, at sentencing, we can request to read or have read aloud our impact statement, although the judge has discretionary authority to allow it or not. If allowed, this would give those of us who choose to do so, an opportunity to tell Trent how his actions and choices on that fatal day have changed and marked our lives forever; pick me…pick me!!!

And once our statements are in the court file, they become part of the public record and may be seen by a Probation Officer or by the National Parole Board; offering us possibly more influence on Trent’s future in the system.

So you can see how important this piece of writing is and the impact it could potentially have not just at sentencing but beyond. I want this to be one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever done. I want it to evoke those intense emotions of grief and shock that I felt, and I want to appropriately capture the depth of the emotional trauma. When the judge reads it, I want him to be deeply moved; I want him to feel even a small portion of what we feel; I want him to have a great sense of the extent of our loss and the tragedy of it; and I want him to feel compelled to take a stand, a real stand, against impaired driving and sentence Trent to at least ten years or more in prison. And when I read it aloud in court, I want Trent to hang his head in shame.

It’s got to be perfect. It’s got to be intense. It’s got to be hard-core. It’s got to be my absolute best. Mamma K deserves no less!

I’ve already got four pages of material typed out. The emotions are percolating and bubbling around in my soul and coming out in bits and pieces. I am not worrying about formatting or perfection right now but just getting the “stuff” out. Soon it’ll be time to fine tune, organize, and pull it all together into a meaningful format that speaks to the depth of this tragedy and moves people to take action.

But in the end, can the trauma of it really be captured in words on a piece of paper? Likely not adequately but I’ll definitely give it a go!

Ever written a victim impact statement or a piece of incredibly important writing? If so, any words of advice?

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