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Widow makes urgent plea as OPP launches Festive RIDE

'One impaired driver is truly one too many. There is no acceptable number really, but we at least want to see them decline,' says OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt

Provincial police launched their Festive RIDE program with the help of someone who knows first-hand how lives can be changed by the actions of an impaired driver.

This season's campaign will run from Nov. 23, 2018 to Jan. 2, 2019.

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said that while officers know that part of the job is being out in the winter at spot checks, there is another part of the job that no one wants to do, but sadly have had to do far too often.

“The 39 families this year that have had officers knocking on their door at all hours of the day and night never recover from that," the sergeant said at the Barrie OPP detachment. “Police having to tell people that their loved ones were killed by an impaired driver is one of the worst parts of our job and we wish we never had to do it again.”

Representatives from Arrive Alive and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) also spoke Friday about the importance of finding a safe way home and being responsible hosts by making sure no one leaves your party impaired.

An emotional plea was made by Welland resident Sheryl Caissie, whose husband, Gregory, was killed by an impaired driver last October.

Caissie and her husband were enjoying a ride on his motorcycle on Oct. 10 when they were struck by a drunk driver. Her husband died and she's still recovering from injuries that have her wheelchair-bound.

Caissie spoke in hopes of giving people a first-hand account of the devastating results of a bad decision to drive impaired. She said that despite the wounds still physically and emotionally fresh from the collision, she needed to speak about it today.

“This is too important for people to ignore and my life and the lives of thousands of others is changed forever because of bad decisions,” said Caissie. “I’m very grateful for the support of my family and friends and there is no way I could have gotten through this without them. But I will never get to finish the life that me and my best friend and husband started together.”

Caissie said her husband is missed by many and that even in death he touched the life of at least one person.

“I wasn’t even able to make arrangements for his funeral because I was in the hospital and family members had to do it for me,” she said. "Family and friends are also missing him, grieving and hurting because of his death.

"I don’t think he realized how many lives he touched and he also saved a man’s life by donating bone marrow to him," Caissie added. 

"He was a Scout leader and his scouts are missing him and he was also a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and his peers from the military who served with him are missing him.”

With the recent legalization of recreational cannabis use, officers will be not only checking for alcohol-related infractions, but also anyone impaired by marijuana.

Schmidt said officers will be handing out pamphlets explaining the cannabis rules drivers are expected to abide on the roads, but will also be focusing their attention on drivers who put public safety at risk by driving impaired by alcohol.

“Being that there have been 39 alcohol or drug-related deaths this year alone in just the OPP’s areas is unbelievably tragic that it is happening,” Schmidt said. “Over 1,200 charges just in the GTA and surrounding areas and over 6,700 across the province, it definitely reminds us that we need to be out in full force making sure people get the message.

"One impaired driver is truly one too many," the sergeant added. "There is no acceptable number really, but we at least want to see them decline.”

Following the media launch, OPP officers headed out immediately to start the RIDE campaign.