Families of impaired-driving victims rally for tougher laws
“Brandon never wanted to be famous, he just wanted to be a mechanic,” says his mother, Kim Thomas.
She says her son had a love of vehicles, buying his first — a Toyota 4Runner that still sits in the garage — at the age of 13 before he could even drive it. He owned a string of other vehicles before trading one in for his dream car — a 1999 World Rally Blue-coloured GC8 Subaru Impreza — the car that he was killed in.
On Jan. 6, 2014, Ryan Jordan Gibson, 23, pled guilty to two counts of impaired driving after a crash on Highway 22 two years prior. Police say his blood alcohol level was double the legal limit at the time he drove down the wrong side of the road, crashing head-on into 17-year-old Brandon, who was less than 10 minutes from his home in Cochrane, Alta.
Photo courtesy of Kim Thomas
The defence is asking for a two-year sentence for Gibson, who will be sentenced on April 16. Thomas says this will likely mean Gibson will serve just a few months before he can apply for parole.
“He took 60 years from Brandon, and he’s going to get four-to-six months,” she says as she weeps.
“Justice for Brandon has been taken away from us now,” Thomas says, but she has joined a group in her son’s name who fight for stricter impaired-driving sentences.
Families for Justice, a group primarily made up of parents who have lost their children to impaired drivers, has started a petition that has over 50,000 signatures. The petition recommends a minimum sentence of five years for impaired driving causing death, and for the charge to be changed to “vehicular manslaughter.” Families for Justice representatives presented the petition to Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay on Feb. 28. Thomas says the group feels the meeting went well and she is remaining “cautiously optimistic.”
But Gibson’s defence lawyer, Alain Hepner, says that increasing the minimum sentence is not the answer to prevent drunk driving.
Produced by Tanis Brown
“People aren’t thinking about the mandatory minimum sentence when they get in the car (impaired),” Hepner says. “There’s too many factors to consider, and it’s a tragedy for everyone, but to hand-tie the judges is inappropriate.”
Instead, Hepner says there needs to be an emphasis on educating young people about the dangers of impaired driving — something Thomas spends much of her time doing.
Thomas and other members of Families for Justice can be found at trade shows and farmers’ markets with a booth filled with information on the current laws surrounding impaired driving, as well as the horrific pictures of what was left of Brandon’s car. She often talks to people through tears as they sign the petition.
“People who make this choice need to be held accountable for their actions,” she says. “We’re hoping to make our angels proud, to know that their lives mattered, because as it is now — four-to-six months — that’s a slap in the face saying that none of these lives that were taken matter.”
The petition can be viewed here.