Drunk drivers do not have a special place in my heart — unless it’s that cold, icy-hard part where child molesters, wife beaters and animal abusers get a thrashing-over my better angels shudder to see.
But Chris Leclerc, a drunk driver who struck and seriously injured a 15-year-old Chilliwack boy as he sped along Chilliwack River Road last September, gained a measure of my respect when he walked into The Progress newsroom just before Christmas.
Leclerc said he wanted to tell his story to warn others about the perils of drinking and driving.
“If I can stop one or two people from getting into a vehicle drunk over the holidays, and maybe save a life … that’s all I have to offer right now.”
I’ve covered plenty of court stories over my 25 years as a reporter, and much is made in the courtroom about “public denunciation” of the offender — but it amounts to nothing really except that one newspaper story that’s soon forgotten.
I’ve never had a convicted drunk driver come back when the dust has settled to bare his shame in public all over again.
So I decided to give Leclerc a chance — not to comfort himself — but to let him warn others with his story about drinking and driving.”
“Drinking and driving is like having a 4,000-lb. gun — you may miss a few times but eventually you are going to hit something,” he said.
What Leclerc, a chronic drinking driver with three previous convictions, eventually hit was a young boy — causing massive injuries from which he may never recover.
Leclerc was sentenced to 18 months in jail, three years probation and a five-year driving ban.
But it’s the damage Leclerc did to the boy — the horror of seeing his body lying by the roadside — and to the boy’s family — that remains.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what happened,” Leclerc said.
He doesn’t expect the family to ever forgive him, or for the community to stop seeing him as the “monster” he was called by the media.
“I deserved it all,” he said.
But maybe there is still some good people like him can do.
“More people like me should come forward, people like me who went through this experience,” he said. “Maybe if people hear the consequences … maybe they’ll think twice about drinking and driving.”
While Leclerc accepts full responsibility for his mistake — the rest of us also need to take more responsibility for keeping drunk drivers off the road.
Party hosts should call cabs for guests too drunk to drive, restaurant and bar owners should do the same.
Everybody has a stake in this struggle to make our highways safe.
“People have to start looking after each other more,” Leclerc said.