In the terrifying moments before his death, Drew Helgason squeezed the hand of the girl sitting next to him. He squeezed her hand hard.
“Close your eyes and keep them closed,” he whispered to Courtney French, then aged 16. They were sitting in the back of a Honda Civic Coupe, and the car was careening down Rockwell Drive, curve by horrifying curve.
Helgason was trying to comfort his friend after they had hitched a ride with a virtual stranger, for what was supposed to a quick trip from Green Point to Harrison Hot Springs.
When the car crashed — hitting a parked and unoccupied SUV and then a fence just north of the marina — he tried to save French by covering her body with his own.
One year later, French is thankful to be alive. But the horror of that drive, and the physical pain from the impact, is still very much with her. She is one of many friends and family who came to a memorial for Helgason, at the crash site on June 2.
Dressed in black, tears are streaming down the young woman’s face. She listens and watches as a new memorial cross is erected, posted on a hydro pole just meters from where Helgason died.
The first memorial cross was removed, just days after the crash. When Helgason’s mother, Yvonne Van DePerre, went searching for answers to where the original cross went, she found nothing. The Village hadn’t removed it, and neither had road crews or anyone else should could contact. It’s simply gone.
“Some heartless (expletive) probably took it and threw it in the lake,” she said.
So, one of Helgason’s best friends, Jordan Wirtz, set out to create a new one, and they erected it to mark the one-year passing of the car crash.
On it are the words that Helgason lived by: ‘Respect everyone and hurt no one.’
The driver of the car involved was expected to appear in a Chilliwack courtroom on June 19 to face six charges in relation to the crash, including dangerous driving causing death, impaired driving causing death, dangerous driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving causing bodily harm.
With that information, Van DePerre also took the opportunity to speak to her son’s friends about the impact of drunk driving.
“There are no human words to describe this pain,” she said. “It’s been a life sentence without my son.”
Helgason was from Delta, and about 40 people traveled to the site that cold Saturday afternoon, most of them young adults.
“Don’t ride with someone you don’t know,” Van DePerre told them, and to trust their gut feelings in situations like Helgason and French were in.
Also at the memorial was a fairly new friend of Van DePerre’s, Markita Kaulius. She is a part of Families For Justice, which is petitioning for changes to drunk driving laws. Kaulius lost a child to drunk driving only week’s before Van DePerre lost her son in the Rockwell Drive crash.
Van DePerre recalls reading the news in her local newspaper, in Delta.
“Tears were dropping on the newspaper at the thought of these parents losing their child,” she said.
Kaulius passed around a petition at the memorial, adding to the 3,000 some signatures they’ve already collected over the past 10 months.
“In 2011 in British Columbia, the police recommended charges against 1,078 impaired drivers. They issued 8,305 – 90 day roadside prohibitions and removed 19,515 impaired drivers from the roads,” she said. “Those are staggering figures and we wish that the government would put the safety of the public in the forefront.”
They would like to see a change that would see drinking driving causing death become a manslaughter charge.
“These people were somebody,” Kaulius said.