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It's often the passenger that bears the brunt of impaired driving

Kevin Brooks turned his experience drunk driving and causing a collision into a campaign to teach youth not to drink and drive. After his incident caused the death of his friend, he says the passenger is often the one to pay the price of drunk driving.
Kevin Brooks giving a speech aimed at warning youth about the consequences of impaired driving. (Courtesy of Kevin Brooks)

Fifteen years ago, after a night of partying, Vancouver's Kevin Brooks chose to drive himself home while impaired. He got behind the wheel of his car and, at the last minute, his friend Brendon jumped in to ride with him. He can't remember exactly how it happened, but his car left the road and rolled multiple times.  The crash left him paralyzed, and his friend dead. Brooks was 21 at the time, Brendon was 20.

Brooks spoke with Checkup guest host Susan McReynolds about the night that changed his life, and the lessons he now shares with others.

Kevin Brooks call Checkup to share his experience of a car accident that left him a paraplegic. 9:50

On being told that his friend died in that car that he drove

I definitely remember [being told that Brendon had died]. It was awful. It was the worst thing I'd ever heard in my life. I remember I learned first that I was paralyzed. For anyone, that's a pretty big thing to take. I was an active guy and everything.

But it was still one of those things that when you're 21, [you think] you're invincible. I think this is what leads to these things happening with some young people – you don't think anything could hurt you.

But when I heard that Brendon had died, it's just so final. We were both hockey players, we grew up together. Our families were close. I thought of him first, and I thought of his family and his friends, his brothers and his sister and it was just absolutely the worst feeling ever.

On his treatment by the legal system

I was charged with impaired driving causing death, dangerous driving causing death. I pled guilty. I had a lenient judge who looked at a 22-year-old guy in a wheelchair and said, 'You're paralyzed, you killed a friend. There's really not much more I could do to you to make this any worse.' I gave myself a life sentence.

On Brendon's family's forgiveness

Brendon's family were very supportive from the get go. They went to bat for me. In their Victim Impact Statement they basically said they did not want me to go to jail, they thought I'd been through enough, and that is what I think ultimately kept me from going to jail. Having their support allowed me to work through a lot of the emotions and I began to forgive myself. I can't speak for them, though, I don't know if they totally forgave me or not. I really don't know.

On lessons learned and getting the message out

I go around to schools and community events to do all kinds of presentations – probably well over a thousand now—going out and sharing the story. 90 per cent of the time I'm speaking in high schools. I've been all over Canada, all over the U.S. It's about to be that time where everyone seems to want to book me to speak leading up to graduation, so March, April, May are very busy times.

I'm not a finger-wagger or anything like that. I just share a story and I plant seeds. I tell young people: if you look at these kinds of crashes, it's often not the driver who gets the worst of it. It's the passenger. So it's just not a risk worth taking.

The response I've got over the years really has resonated with people and helped them make better choices than driving impaired or hopping in with an impaired driver. We need to make better choices.

Kevin Brooks' comments have been edited and condensed. This online segment was prepared by Michael Liew.

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