SURREY - "Families and parents are not supposed to identify their loved ones on a hospital gurney. Or to have to make the decision whether to bury or cremate your child. My Mother's Day was spent picking out the clothes that my daughter was to be cremated in."
Those were words shared by Markita Kaulius, the mother of Kassandra Kaulius, a 22-year-old girl who was killed on May 3 when her sedan was T-boned by a speeding van driven by a 34-year-old woman suspected of being drunk behind the wheel. No charges have been laid.
MADD Canada estimates that on average, four people are killed in drunk driving accidents every day in Canada.
"People never think that they're going to have to read their loved one's autopsy report," Markita said. "These are the things that a family has to go through on top of the shock and the grief over their loved ones death and we have been in such pain and desperation."
Markita shared her story at Surrey City Hall Wednesday, joining the City of Surrey, emergency service works and representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to launch the 2011 Project Red Ribbon campaign.
The campaign is MADD's public awareness campaign, which runs for two months during the holiday season, urging people not to drink and drive. In support of the campaign, citizens are asked to display a red ribbon on their vehicle, keychain or personal item such as a purse, briefcase of backpack.
Markita said her family's history was changed forever because someone chose to drink and drive.
"Not only has an innocent life been taken, but so were her hopes, her dreams, a future that was to be promising. No more graduation, no wedding, no grandchildren, no more family laughter, no more family holidays or anniversaries."
By all accounts, Kassandra was a model citizen whose life, though short, was well spent. The youngest of a large family of Lithuanians, the scholarship-winning softball pitcher and coach was deeply loved by her family and friends.
At her celebration of live, Rob Upton, a coach for the Surrey Storm Softball Association, said Kassandra never had a bad word to say about anybody and was the "ultimate definition of a team player."
"Number 15 will never be replaced," he said at her memorial. "She'll be on the field with us every game."
Kassandra's fiancŽ, Cody Schlamb, said at her memorial that he lost the best part of his life.
"You were my world, and now you're going to be my inspiration. You brought so much joy."
At the time she was killed, Kassandra was working two jobs and attending the University of the Fraser Valley studying to be a teacher.
"With the upcoming holiday season, we ask to please make arrangements to get home safely before you have your first drink," Markita said. "Please do not drink and drive. Everyone deserves the right to get home safely. Remember that the life you save may be your own, or somebody else's loved ones."
B.C. Ambulance superintendent Pascal Rodier said that the public often hears a little bit about the offender, the victims and the families, but they don't hear about everyone else touched by the tragedy, like friends and co-workers of the victim, even the emergency responders.
"Every responder, whether it be a paramedic or are partners in our fire and police agencies that respond with us, are touched by every one of these events," Rodier said. "We have a connection that's immediate with those on scene. Not just with the victims themselves, but sometimes with the offender as well as the families and those that are left behind.
"That impact doesn't go away. It builds. We see it on every call for service. We are reminded by it when we see it in the media and we're also reminded by it every time we drive by the scene, even years later."
The Project Red Ribbon campaign runs until Jan. 3.
- With files from Tom Zytaruk