HEARTBROKEN FATHER URGES OSS STUDENTS TO DRIVE SAFE, ACT RESPONSIBLY
A father’s heartbreaking sorrow over the loss of his beloved teenage son brought dozens of Osoyoos teenagers to tears last Thursday.
Almost nine years after his 17-year-old son Jason died of complications from a horrific car crash caused by street racing, Greg Drew said the memory of holding his son’s hand in hospital during his final seconds knowing he was about to die will haunt him forever.
“My mother asked me if we could keep Jay alive for one more day because she didn’t want him to die on Mother’s Day, but it was too late,” said Drew in tears before more than 250 students and teachers at Osoyoos Secondary School last Thursday morning. “No parent should be holding their child’s hand when they hear that sound (heart monitor showing a flat line).”
There were very few dry eyes in the OSS mini-theatre during Drew’s emotionally powerful presentation, where he urged, yelled at and pleaded with students to act responsibly when driving a motor vehicle and in life in general.
With graduation and prom party season around the corner, Drew is delivering his personal message of loss and heartache to thousands of students across British Columbia as a road safety speaker for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC).
Mixing humour, rage, empathy and tears, the former Canadian national water polo team member talked about his beloved son’s horrific death almost nine years ago on May 14, 2003.
Drew, a veteran firefighter of 32 years, who recalled attending far too many accident scenes involving young people, said teenagers continue to “have a Superman syndrome” and believe they are invincible.
But they’re not invincible and too many make stupid decisions which often end in tragedy, death and heartache for their loved ones, said Drew.
“You all think it’s never going to happen to me … but I’m telling you, it can happen to you,” said Drew at the beginning of his 90-minute presentation. “I’m trying to help you guys and keep you and your family safe.”
His son was “a beautiful boy”, but he loved to drive his sports car fast and it ended up costing him his life and ended up shattering his for many years, said Drew.
“I tried to help him, I tried to teach him, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Six weeks before his son’s horrific crash on a county road five kilometres from his family’s home in Surrey, Drew took both his boys, Jason and Michael, out of bed at 3 a.m. to bring them to an accident scene he just left while on duty where another teenager had crashed his vehicle after driving too fast.
The impact on Michael was significant, but it didn’t seem to affect Jason, said Drew.
“I remember him saying he was a good driver and it wasn’t going to happen to me,” he said. “It did happen to him six weeks later.”
During his tour of B.C. high schools, Drew has opted for complete honesty to try and get his message across and he doesn’t pull any punches. The impact is devastating as you could hear loud gasps and uproarious laughter mixed with sobbing and tears throughout his heartfelt presentation. Again in tears, Drew described how his son Michael phoned to inform him Jason had been in a serious car crash. After more than 23 years as a firefighter and having attended hundreds of accident scenes, rushing to an accident scene where his six-foot-five, 225-pound son was trapped in a heap of twisted metal, near death, is a horrible memory that can’t be erased, said Drew.
“Seven large bones were shattered in a split second and he was conscious the whole time … I was there for most of it and he never said boo,” he said. “Crews had to remove his tibia and fibula from his right ear …. I knew my son was tough, but I didn’t realize how tough until that night.
“But six weeks earlier I had taken him to that accident scene and shown him what could happen. When I first got to the scene, Jason looked at me and told me he had screwed up. I just told him I loved him.”
Jason never recovered from his injuries, said Drew.
“There were no drugs or alcohol involved,” he said. “He was just going way too fast.”
When the accident occurred, Jason was on his way to tell a young girl he had a crush on he would like to ask her to be his date to the upcoming prom, said Drew.
“He never got to ask what would have been his first girlfriend out to the prom,” he said. “She went to her grad by herself because she wanted Jay to be her grad partner.
“I believe Jay probably would have married that girl and had kids by now. I lost a lot of dreams when I lost my son. It hurt and it still hurts.”
More than 200 firefighters and 750 people attended his son’s celebration of life, which showed the kind of impact Jason made in his short life, said Drew. After his son’s death, he was so devastated and paralyzed with heartache and remorse, he could barely get out of bed for weeks, said Drew. Hundreds of family and friends visited or made phone calls for a few days after the funeral, but within days he was alone and no one called because they didn’t know what to say, said Drew.
“My phone never rang for days. I was all alone,” he said. “The only thing that kept me going were my two German Shepherds … my dogs would lick the teardrops from my eyes.”
Friends and neighbours he had known for years would avoid him in the grocery store because they were also overwhelmed with grief “and just didn’t know what to say,” he said. While the pain remains, he decided many years ago to try and make a difference by talking to other teenagers to share his and Jason’s story and hopefully make a difference in their lives, said Drew.
“I’ve seen it all and done it all, so I’m here to try and make a difference today,” he said. “If I can change one life and maybe save one life today, then I know I’m making a difference … my goal is to tell you to take care of each other.
“Many of you are getting ready to graduate, but my son didn’t make it to walk across the stage for his graduation because he died one month before that was supposed to happen.”
During all his presentations, Drew urges students to “tickle their dreams” and he’s formed a unique handshake involving shaking the tips of his fingers rapidly.
“Tickle the dream … I lost a lot of dreams when I lost my son, but I haven’t stopped dreaming,” he said. “I want to help everyone in this room tickle their dreams. Set your goals high and tickle your dreams high enough so you will make them come true.”
Far too many teenagers refuse to listen to their parents, when their parents “love them unconditionally” and are only making decisions to try and help them, said Drew. He son’s death caused “DKS …that stands for Dead Kids Syndrome”, and it breaks his heart every time he hears or reads about another young life ended as a result of “kids who just won’t listen,” said Drew.
Life “is not a video game” and the vast majority of teenagers don’t get another chance for a full and happy life when they smash a motor vehicle at 100 or 120 kilometres an hour, he said. Drew also urged students to adopt a theory he calls Responsible Adult Thinking Teenager (RATT) and not accept irresponsible behaviour from their peers or adults.
If a friend is driving erratically or way over the speed limit, demand they slow down and act responsibly and leave the scene as quickly as possible, said Drew.
“You all know right from wrong, good from bad … make smart choices,” he said. “Get yourself out of an unsafe ride. It’s like playing Russian Roulette and one of these nights that gun is going to go bang. Do not let anyone else play Russian Roulette with your life ever. If you’re in a car and ask someone to slow down and they won’t, that means they have no respect for you.”
Drew ended his presentation again urging students to act responsibly, realize they’re not invincible and to take care of each other.
He also told them to go home and hug their parents and talk to them about how much they mean to them, even when they might not appreciate their decisions.
“Please realize your parents love you unconditionally … take a chance and open up the lines of communication and you will be amazed by what you will see in your parents’ eyes.”
He then pulled out the black urn that carries Jason’s ashes that remain on the mantle inside his home and again, in tears, told students how he would do anything to have his son’s strong arms around him giving him a hug.
“I’ll never get that hug,” he said.
Following his memorable presentation, Drew shook hands and hugged dozens of students outside the auditorium, most of them shaken and in tears.
Michael, a Grade 11 OSS student who didn’t want to give his last name, said Drew’s presentation affected him deeply.
“It was amazing,” he said. “There weren’t too many of us not in tears. His message is very strong and I know it impacted me. I’m going to think a lot more about what I do and I’m certainly going to slow down when I drive.”