York police launch annual holiday RIDE program to convince people not to drink and drive

York Regional Police launched its annual RIDE program in the hopes of convincing people not to drink and drive.

'The trauma doesn't end. The suffering does not end,' says daughter who lost dad to impaired driver

Nirusha Mahendram, who lost her father to an impaired driver on Dec. 31, 2019, says: 'The trauma doesn't end. The suffering does not end.' (CBC)

York Regional Police has launched its annual holiday RIDE program in the hopes of convincing people not to drink and drive.

"We consider a suspected impaired driver a crime in progress and you should never hesitate to call 911," Cecile Hammond, deputy chief of the force, said on Friday night at a news conference in Markham.

The program, which began on Friday, runs until New Year's Eve. 

Police have laid more than 1,600 impaired driving-related charges in York Region this year. More than 4,400 calls have been made to police from citizens reporting impaired drivers in 2020. 

Police have investigated two fatal crashes this year in which alcohol or drug impaired driving is believed to be a factor.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the police service to change its RIDE program somewhat and the community should expect to see RIDE spot checks in places this year where they may not have been previously. Those places include back roads and residential neighbourhoods, which police said impaired drivers are using to avoid police.

"We know that the locations where people often consume alcohol have changed as bars, clubs and restaurants have been either closed or have reduced capacity," Hammond said.

"If you still feel that drinking, or using drugs, and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle is worth the risk, despite the high probability of being caught, the criminal charges, the criminal record, the legal fees, insurance costs and the embarrassment that will follow, what about the possibility of killing innocent people?" Hammond asked.

Hammond said drivers need to make the right choice.

'Just don't get behind the wheel,' says woman who lost dad

Nirusha Mahendram, a woman who lost her father to impaired driving, also spoke at the news conference. Her father, Mahendram Sellathurai, 68, was killed on Dec. 31, 2019 at about 7:20 p.m. His death came the day before her 30th birthday.

Stanley Choy, 40, was travelling nearly 200 km/h with more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system when he struck Sellathurai's car. Choy was sentenced to seven years in prison, Hammond said. 

"The trauma doesn't end. The suffering does not end," Mahendram told reporters in front of a check spot in Markham. Four months earlier, she had lost her mother.

"That night had just practically changed my entire life for me. My goals, my future, any life plans that I had had been shattered in a moment," Mahendram said.

"The only word I can hang onto is the word hope, hope for change, the hope that the police officers here, and those of you who are watching, help to make sure that everyone gets home safe," she added.

For anyone who is considering driving even the slightest bit impaired, she said: "Don't. Just don't get behind the wheel."

She said her father was a "kind, loving" man who was hard working and a "go-getter who would not let an opportunity slide by." He was always smiling and would never argue, she said.

Her father had been out getting groceries and had stopped to grab dinner for the family before he was killed.

Mahendram shared her story just metres away from where her father was killed and where police set up its first stop check of the RIDE campaign.

Jennifer Neville-Lake, who lost her three children and father to a impaired driving crash in 2015, was also at the news conference to lend her support for the campaign.

With files from Angelina King


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