When a police officer shows up at your home in the middle of the night, the news they are delivering is often heartbreaking.
This was the case on November 24, 2014, when LaToya Garcia was awakened by a door knock.
“I remember they showed me a photo and asked if it was my brother,” she recalled. “I said ‘yes’ and then they asked, ‘Is he ok? They then told me there was an accident and unfortunately he didn’t make it.”
Cassius Richards, then 25, was killed when an impaired driver ran a red light.
In May 2016, 23-year-old Matthew Habte was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered not to drive for another six years.
Garcia, who spoke at the launch of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Project Red Ribbon launch at Toronto Police headquarters on November 5, said the family is still affected by the tragedy.
“You turn on the news and you see there is a traffic accident caused by impaired driving and, in some instances, someone dies,” she said. “You go along with your business never thinking that it can happen to your family. Everything changes after that and life is never the same. Everytime I get up to speak about what happened to my brother, my hope is that if I can just reach one person, I might be helping to save one life because I wish this on no one. My mother still cries and it never goes away.”
So far this year, Toronto Police has charged 932 people with impaired driving. There were two fatalities and six injuries.
“Out of all the criminal offences in the criminal code, by far the most avoidable is impaired driving,” Chief Mark Saunders said. “And yet every year, every jurisdiction and every community is affected by it. In this day and age when there are so many options when it comes to ground transportation, the message still needs to be put out there.”
Mayor John Tory thanked MADD, law enforcement and first responders for promoting education and awareness and urged community members to help save lives on the streets.
“Think about this in the context of your personal behaviour because you are the ones that can best control and limit the carnage,” he said. “Don’t even think about about drinking and driving during the holiday season or anytime for that matter.”
Now in its 32nd year, Project Red Ribbon is Canada’s longest-running public-awareness campaign during seasonal celebrations that make impaired driving a heightened concern.
The campaign runs from Nov. 1 to the first Monday in the New Year.
Jen Simon and Leigh Rosar are the MADD Toronto chapter co-chairs.
“Every year in Canada, hundreds of people are killed and tens of thousands are injured in crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs,” said Simon. “We do not call these crashes accidents. These deaths and injuries are 100 per cent preventable. This is why Project Red Ribbon continues to be one of our most important awareness campaigns. We need to drive home the message that deaths and injuries caused by impaired driving can be prevented if everyone makes responsible and safe choices.”
During the campaign, MADD chapters and community leaders across the country partner with their local and regional police at holiday sobriety checkpoints and at community events where they hand out red ribbons and educational material.
Other speakers at the launch included the province’s Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, Member of Provincial Parliament Christine Hogarth, Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Rose DiMarco, Toronto Fire Services Deputy Chief Larry Cocco and Toronto Paramedics Chief Gord McEachen.