Victims of drunk driving remembered at candlelight vigil





Candles are placed near photographs of people killed by impaired drivers yesterday during the annual Mothers Against Drunk Driving candlelight ceremony at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

« So many of them are young faces. ... You wonder what would have happened if those lives weren’t cut short and killed in such needless tragedy.»

Shuffling inside and away from the falling snow, they stare up at the tiny Christmas lights of green and red, twinkling softly in spruce and pine, knowing their loved ones are dead.

On a cold December afternoon, nearly 50 people lit candles with icy hands yesterday, the warm glow reflecting off their mournful faces as they remembered those hurt and killed in impaired driving accidents.

"You never ever get over this. The pain is always there," said Gladys Shelstad, organizer of the remembrance service as the local president for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "All you can do is learn to work your life around it."

Nearly four years ago, her 17-year-old son, Jimmy, was walking home when an impaired driver struck him as he crossed the street at a marked intersection.

The annual candlelight vigil, hosted at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, is the one time each year when she can push aside the tragedy and remember all the great things about his life, she said.

In Alberta, a staggering 453 people were killed in car accidents last year, with over 25 per cent of them involving alcohol consumption.

Yet, people tend to forget how quickly lives can be ripped apart with the quick twist of a bottle and the turn of a key, said Acting Insp. Bill Horne of the city police traffic section.

"The harsh reality is, despite the best efforts of our organizations … it appears to be people are still not listening," he said, pointing out that over 700 people have been charged in 2007 with impaired driving offenses.

Looking down at a table filled with photographs of impaired driving victims, RCMP Insp. James Stiles said they were all "lives lost needlessly."

"So many of them are young faces," he said, shaking in head. "You wonder what would have happened if those lives weren’t cut short and killed in such needless tragedy."

For Shelstad, all they can do is hope their message rings clearer this year, especially as Christmas approaches and everyone is preoccupied with holiday parties and social functions.

"Hopefully I can stop another family from having to go through what we’ve had to go through," she said. "Maybe we can make people understand that there is a lot of carnage that’s left behind when people drive impaired."