The drunk driver who nearly killed Nelson resident Pat Henman and her daughter Maia Vezina has been granted parole, walking out of prison a day after the three-year anniversary of the fateful 2013 crash.
“She served 1½ years instead of [her sentence of] 2½ years, which I already felt wasn’t enough,” a tearful Henman told the Star this week, while showcasing one of four new anti-impaired driving signs erected around downtown.
“And to know they only put five conditions on her release — none of them said she had to go to AA or get therapy, not one — makes me even sadder.”
Henman feels conflicting emotions about Shara Bakos, who collided head-on with her just outside Skookumchuck in 2013. Henman and daughter Maia Vezina were severely injured. But she hopes the signs, which encourage motorists and pedestrians to call 9-1-1 if they see impaired drivers, will make a difference.
“I do believe people do their time and I wish [Bakos] all the best,” Heman said. “She has a child she can go home to now, but I don’t think the courts have done their due diligence and I really hope I don’t hear she’s done it again.”
For Mayor Deb Kozak, a longtime friend of Henman’s, the issue is intensely personal.
“We need to make a clear statement that driving under the influence just isn’t acceptable and has dire consequences. This is not the first time in my life that drinking and driving has affected me, and I think every one of us has a story.”
Kozak believes better supports are needed for people who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, and better intervention and education opportunities for people like Bakos.
“Education is so critically important. I think Pat really nailed it on the head when she said she was disappointed the release conditions didn’t include counselling for the young woman who impacted them so deeply.”
She’s glad the signs are nice and prominent, and believes they’ll make a difference.
“I’m really glad we have these signs up. It’s a small thing we can do.”
Kozak’s amazed at Henman’s resilience — last year she directed Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and she’s once again become an active member of the community despite her injuries.
“It’s extremely emotional for me. I’m so grateful Pat is still here, part of my life and this community. She’s always been a driving force in the community, and she still is. I knew once she was well enough nothing would keep her down. I’m so happy to support her in this.”
From a policing perspective, Chief Paul Burkart thinks there’s reason for optimism.
“With the new laws in BC we saw a great reduction in impaired driving,” he said. “Between 2010 and 2014 we saw about a 52 per cent decrease in the number of impaired drivers — the trouble is we still have about 100 people pass away each year because of impaired driving in BC alone.”
He said the impact goes beyond the people involved in the crash.
“This is a huge concern for police, so what we want is for people to be the eyes for the police and report impaired driving. If you’re on foot, grab your cell and dial 9-1-1. That will go directly to our dispatch, then you provide as much information about the driver, the direction of travel, the license plate if you can get it.”
If you’re driving, you should pull over first.
“If you’re going out for a drink, get a designated driver, get a friend to pick you up. You have to make those decisions before you go out, because while you’re drinking you won’t make sensible decisions.
“We’re not saying don’t go out and have fun, we’re saying be responsible so we’re not affecting the lives of people like Pat.”
Henman has been working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, campaigning in the Chahko Mika Mall and sharing her story with anyone who will listen. She campaigned for the signage through the organization.
So after all she’s been through, what keeps her going?
“I can’t give you an exact answer why I’m doing this. It’s a drive, and I know the MADD people are really good at what they do. It’s something I can physically do, so I’m going to do it.
“I deeply, deeply care about all those people who go on a lovely drive one day and never come home.
“They never asked to be part of someone else’s bad decision.”