It’s not often Mounties show the weight of the burden they carry, but it was apparent at a Thursday afternoon gathering where the accomplishments of 51 officers were celebrated.
All were solemn, but some were brought to tears and could be seen wiping their eyes as activist Laurel Middelaer thanked them for keeping the roads clear of drunk drivers, and told the story of her daughter, Alexa.
Alexa, she explained, was four and a half in May 2008 when she died from the “very real consequence of poor choices and negligent behaviour.”
“We got a call, and I knew it was Alexa and I knew she was dead,” she remembered.
The cherubic looking girl was on a rural road in the Lower Mainland, holding her aunt’s hand and feeding a horse a cookie through the fence. Across that road were her grandparents, who were looking on with pleasure.
The picturesque image was cut short by a maroon car that was careening down the road, and swerved into the grandparents car. They, left injured, were trapped in their vehicle as the car bounced off their car into Alexa and her aunt.
The impact sent Alexa into the air “out of her Crocs” and across the way into a horse paddock, where she died. Her aunt was left broken, bones exposed at the side of the road.
And when the dust settled, her grandparents made a call to Laurel and her husband to come help.
“We were a block from the house and we arrived on the tragic scene. Everyone here has seen what I’ve seen,” she said to the room of police officers at the BCAA-sponsored function held at Watson Elementary School.
“I saw a little girl, lifeless on a horse paddock. I saw grandparents with blood streaming down their faces, stuck in the car…and I saw the accused smoking a cigarette, sitting on the curb.”
It was more than most could take in, but the realization that it happened because of speeding and alcohol was gut wrenching.
For the years that followed, the family waited for the court system to deal with the matter. After that was done, the accused was put in jail for two and a half years.
But, said Middelaer, it wasn’t enough to quench their grief. And, quite frankly, she said, that’s a good thing.
Since that time she’s lobbied for legislative changes to the way drinking and driving has been dealt with. She’s also helped develop Alexa’s Team, which rewards officers for their efforts to remove impaired drivers from the roads. And, if the accomplishments of the crowd gathered were an indication, it’s working.
Among the ranks of those being celebrated was Central Okanagan all star, Const. Bob Charron.
For the last 32 years he’s been working to keep Okanagan roads safe, and free of drinking drivers and Charron admits to having seen the scene Middelear described many times.
“It rips at your heart,” he said. “But it makes me want to get up in the morning and go at it every day.” He’s even seen a few changes for the better over the years. “Younger drivers are more reactive to the initiatives being taken,” he said, noting that it likely means educational efforts are working. “It’s reassuring to know down the line, there will be more of an impact.”
To learn more about Alexa’s team, and the related initiative Alexa’s bus, go to alexasbus.com.
Kelowna officers who were honoured as part of Alexa’s Team were: Cst. Cory Schneider, Cst. Troy Laplante, Cst. Sheldon Herman, Cst. Sean Orb, Cst. Micha Yakonowsky, Cst. Bradley Smith, Cst. Chris Neid, Cst. Bob Charron, Cst. Chad Lucash and Cst. Beth Paetz.