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Drunk driving impact made real as OSS students hear from paralyzed man who killed friend
Kevin Brooks will never be able to wiggle his toes again.
When he tells high school students like the ones he spoke to at Osoyoos Secondary School on Monday afternoon how and why he became paralyzed from the waist down, it has devastating impact.
Brooks’ life changed forever 14 years ago when he made the decision to get behind the wheel of his sports car while heavily intoxicated.
Travelling at more than 130 kilometres an hour down a residential street less than five minutes from his Cloverdale home, Brooks crashed his car, resulting in horrific personal injuries that left him near death and paralyzed from the chest down.
The crash killed his good friend and former minor hockey teammate named Brendon.
Brooks awoke in hospital from a medically-induced coma several weeks after the accident and life would never be the same knowing he would never walk again and his good buddy had died as a result of a series of terrible decisions he made that night.
“You have to make choices in life … please make the right ones,” said Brooks, who has spent the past 12 years talking to more than half a million high school students at more than 1,000 high schools across B.C. and around the world.
Brooks has been the keynote speaker at numerous provincial, state and national conferences and has been an ICBC Road Sense speaker for more than a decade.
An exceptionally gifted speaker, Brooks told more than 300 Osoyoos Secondary School students about how he grew up thinking he was invincible.
When he wasn’t snowboarding, skateboarding or playing hockey, he was getting drunk and driving irresponsibly for several years until tragedy struck on a June evening back in 2000, he said.
“They called me The Creature” because of his hard partying attitude, said Brooks.
His parents repeatedly told him they would come to get him if he ever needed a ride home after a party. His friends that night had called a cab and urged him to join them.
He didn’t listen.
The night of the accident, he had attended several house parties and was severely intoxicated and was warned repeatedly not to drive, but he chose to ignore those warnings and sped off seconds after Brendon decided to join him in the passenger seat.
Minutes later, his car was a heaping mass of metal and blood as he hung upside down near death with a collapsed lung and too many broken bones and injuries to list.
If not for wearing his seatbelt and landing upside down, he would have bled to death and died that night, he said.
“I somehow managed to cling to life until we were found,” he said.
He hears stories similar to his at virtually every school he attends to make his presentation, said Brooks.
Parents of teenagers who are prone to making bad decisions never want to get the “dreaded knock on the door” that their son or daughter has been killed because of drunk driving, said Brooks.
When he finally awoke in hospital, his own mother had to inform him he was paralyzed and that Brendon had been killed, said Brooks.
Knowing his poor decisions led to his good friend being killed was the most devastating thing he has ever had to deal with to this day, said Brooks.
“The word ‘dead’ did not ever cross my mind … nothing can prepare you for something like that,” he said. “There was no bringing him back, there was no saying you’re sorry. There are no words or series of words to describe what I felt.”
Remarkably, Brendon’s parents forgave him and repeatedly asked to talk to him while he slowly recovered from his massive injuries.
“His parents called every day … and Brendon’s funeral, they asked everyone to pray for me,” he said near tears.
It took months of intensive physiotherapy for him to learn how to breath on his own and be able to speak again, he said.
The physical pain was excruciating, but paled in comparison to the emotional guilt he felt over Brendon’s death.
The most important part of his recovery was finally accepting Brendon’s parent’s invitation to attend dinner at their home, he said.
Brendon’s parents forgave him in person, stressed he and Brendon had both made terrible decisions that night and the best way to honour Brendon was for Brooks to recover and try and make a difference and motivate others to not make the same mistakes.
“The road to self-forgiveness is a long one, but it started for me that day,” he said.
Even though there remains “some seriously dark days”, Brooks said his overall attitude over the past 12 years has changed dramatically as he tries to “turn every negative into a positive.”
Being able to share his story and help teenagers understand the dangers of drunk driving and making poor decisions is extremely rewarding, he said.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” he said. “I hope what I’m saying to you is an eye opener, a game changer, a life changer. I can’t make you make good decisions, but I do hope that you will listen to what I’ve had to say today.”
While he will never be able to skateboard, snowboard, play hockey or climb mountains again, Brooks said his life is filled with overcoming obstacles and participating in sports and activities he can enjoy such as disabled skiing.
“It’s a new way, but it’s better than no way,” he said.
He urged the students to make wise decisions, not be reckless and enjoy life while being responsible.
Having lost close friends to both violence and suicide, Brooks’ story has evolved into more than talking about the devastation that can be caused by drunk driving.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of asking for help and know it’s alright to ask for help,” he said.
His sister Holly, who turned 19 on Monday, has wished that he could walk again as her annual birthday wish since he came home from hospital 14 years ago, said Brooks.
The endless support and love from his parents and siblings never ceases to amaze him and keep him motivated to continue to try and positively influence young lives, said Brooks.
He may never be able to wiggle his toes again, but he’s enjoying life and will continue to travel across the country speaking to high school students to try and make a difference and prevent others from making the bad decisions he made as a teenager.