PEI·First Person

My son was killed by a drunk driver — her sentence doesn't reflect what it cost our family

One year ago today, our beloved 27-year-old son, Jacob, was killed by a drunk driver while cycling on a beautiful Friday afternoon. The prison sentence the driver received cannot begin to encompass the loss to our family.

Driver will be eligible for parole after serving just one-third of sentence; my family will never be the same

Jacob Simmons was great with kids, says his mother, Brenda. He's seen here reading to his young cousin Emmylou. Jacob was killed by a drunk driver while cycling one year ago. (Submitted by Brenda Simmons)

This First Person article is the experience of Brenda Simmons, a resident of Belfast, P.E.I., and mother to Jacob and Janna Simmons. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

One year ago today, our beloved 27-year-old son, Jacob, was killed by a drunk driver while cycling on a beautiful Friday afternoon. 

The 44-year-old woman who hit him from behind, flinging his six-foot-seven, 200-pound body onto the pavement 61 metres from the point of collision, drove off without stopping to try to help or call 911. 

The RCMP found her in a driveway on a side road several kilometres away. 

Jacob, an avid runner, at a race in Galway, Ireland. (Submitted by Brenda Simmons)

Her blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit. She confessed to having downed 13 drinks that day and was on the way to her boyfriend's house for supper. He had told her that he would pay for a cab since she had been drinking. 

A life sentence for our family

She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. Offenders convicted of impaired driving causing death are eligible for parole after serving one-third of the sentence, so even if you kill someone, you could be released in 1.5 years or less. The sentence for our family is life.

"Impaired driving causing death" sounds so sterile. If someone were drunk and took a baseball bat to beat a complete stranger to death, we all would be horrified. 

However, drink and choose a 4,000-pound weapon (a car), instead of a bat, hit someone from behind so hard that he suffers fatal blunt-force injuries to his head, neck, chest and abdomen, plead guilty and you'll be out in no time. Picture using the bat instead of the car to do that to a person.

People may even sympathize with the driver because it was just a coincidence or bad luck that they killed a complete stranger before getting to their destination that day.

After all, they weren't going far…

In 2019, the P.E.I. Roadrunners named Jacob male roadrunner of the year. (PEI Roadrunners)

There's something wrong with this picture

What's wrong with this picture? Why is the incidence of impaired driving so high in our otherwise low-crime, beautiful province? Why was our son's death worth so little in the Canadian judicial system?

I am not upset with the judge who dealt with our case.

My husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer in mid-April 2020 and was fighting it with an aggressive chemotherapy regime, but then Jacob was killed. 

Jacob and his dad, Kevin, are pictured on the north coast of Ireland in August 2019. Kevin died of pancreatic cancer six weeks after Jacob was killed. (Submitted by Brenda Simmons)

My husband should have lived longer with the help of those treatments, but he died six weeks after Jacob did. The final weeks of his life — his last Father's Day, his last birthday — were filled with incredible emotional pain and loss on top of the cancer. 

The quality of his remaining life was destroyed by the impaired driver, but that doesn't seem to count.  

So much damage to so many

I had to identify Jacob's body at the morgue late on the night he died and still see the damage done to him and his wide-open eyes when I try to sleep. He was still wearing his new bike helmet.  

Jacob had opted to be an organ donor a few years ago, but we could not donate his organs because he had to be sent to Nova Scotia for an autopsy to support the charges. All his training and fitness, and very healthy organs, as per the autopsy report, were wasted.  

Jacob was a chess player and was part of the P.E.I. team at the Canadian Chess Challenge in 2008 in Edmonton and 2009 in Toronto. (P.E.I. Youth Chess Association/Facebook)

Drivers in the area, first responders, police and paramedics had to see the aftermath, but the driver didn't because she left the scene. 

So much damage to so many people, but the prison sentence does not reflect those costs.   

Something good from such a senseless loss

My husband wanted to create a scholarship fund in Jacob's name so that he would not be forgotten and something good would come from such a senseless loss. 

We have received great support for the fund to date, and the first $2,500 scholarship is being awarded to a graduating P.E.I. high school student who shared some of Jacob's passions and interests.

A class photo of Jacob. A scholarship has been created in his name, to be awarded to a student who shares similar passions and interests as Jacob. (Submitted by Brenda Simmons)

Seventy-one of the brightest graduating students from across the Island applied, and as requested, each applicant provided two suggestions to help reduce or eliminate impaired driving in our province. 

The applications were inspiring to read, and my daughter and I will be compiling the suggestions and sharing them with those who can help make changes, such as MADD, elected officials, the police and others.

Don't drink and drive

Please do not drive impaired. 

Call 911 if you see a suspected impaired driver. 

Help take the "baseball bat" out of his or her hands, and maybe you will save the lives of children waiting for a bus or a mom walking with her kids to the beach or a healthy, strong young person with so much more life to live and to give, like our son Jacob.

It's a crime that is killing people, and politicians have the power to strengthen the laws to better reflect that. Let them know you care.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brenda Simmons is a graduate of Nova Scotia Agricultural College and the University of Guelph. She has a fulltime job and is learning how to run their small family farm, Lighthouse Berries/Cherries, which her husband Kevin and son Jacob operated until their deaths. She and her daughter Janna (Jay) live on the Point Prim Road in Belfast.

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