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Grieving mom shares vivid message against impaired driving with Surrey students

‘The devastation can spread through everyone you love,’ Markita Kaulius warns
Markita Kaulius, with picture of her daughter Kassanda – who was killed by a drunk driver in Surrey – in the background. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

A grieving mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver in Surrey is imploring anyone who will listen to not drive while impaired. Markita Kaulius is touring Lower Mainland high schools as grad season approaches to caution students about the perils of driving while drunk or stoned.

She has partnered with ICBC as a “road safety speaker,” sharing her family’s tragic story with young ears hoping her audiences will make the right choices before getting behind the wheel.

There are nine such speakers, tackling topics like this one, distracted driving, speeding and the too-often tragic consequences of dangerous and reckless driving, from the perspective of victims, first responders and emergency room doctors.

Kaulius was at Earl Marriott secondary in South Surrey on May 8, and the following day she spoke at Panorama Ridge Secondary in Newton. On May 28, she’ll be speaking at Frank Hurt Secondary, and on June 3, Guildford Park.

She’ll also be presenting at schools in Delta, Abbotsford, Langley and Chilliwack.

Her daughter Kassandra, 22, was killed in 2011, a year when 1,075 people were killed by impaired drivers in Canada and more than 63,000 were injured.

“Each year between 1,250 to 1,500 people are killed by an impaired driver in Canada. That works out to roughly four to six people a day, and 190 a day are injured,” Kaulius told an auditorium filled with teens at Panorama Ridge.

“The pain of losing a loved one to an impaired driver is indescribable,” she said. “There are no words in the English language to even come close to tell you what it is like to lose a child, and how it affects families.

“I have a bedroom down the hall in my home where everything is still the same as the day she died. The only thing that I’ve been able to do is pack up her dresser drawers. I’ve tried three times to go in and empty the clothes out of her closet.

“The worst pain of losing a child is living every day without that child in your life,” she said. “Because of the actions, decisions made by one person who chose to drink and drive, that night our entire world was turned upside-down forever and changed forever. We received a lifetime sentence of being without our daughter, and sadly Kassandra received a death sentence.”

A North Delta woman who drank more that a bottle and a half of wine ran a red light, got airborne over railroad tracks and slammed her company van into the side of Kassandra’s BMW at 103 kilometres an hour, at 152nd Street and 64th Avenue on May 3, 2011. Her car was pushed about 1,200 feet down the road.

“Her driver’s side door was crushed two feet into the side of her and her seat was left at about a width of 20 centimetres.”

The aspiring teacher and pitcher for the Storm’s senior ladies team had been on her way home after playing a game of softball at Cloverdale Athletic Park when she was killed. Markita spent that Mother’s Day choosing the clothing her daughter would be cremated in.

After her daughter died, Kaulius founded a group called Families for Justice to lobby government for better impaired driving laws.

“No one should ever die like this,” she said. “There is always an empty chair there, and we are all feeling the loss as we miss Kassandra every single day.”

You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium at Panorama Ridge as Kaulius recalled hearing about her daughter being killed and the harrowing aftermath for her family, in her one-hour talk. Student Isha Chand later described it as “very powerful.”

“I ask all of you here today, after 40 years of education and awareness, is there anyone in this room who does not know that you should not drink or drive,” Kaulius challenged. “And yet we continue to see impaired driving, and distracted driving, as one of the number one criminal causes of death in Canada.”

She asked the teens for a show of hands how many had taken a ride with an impaired driver, and a good number indicated they had.

“I any of your activities involve alcohol, please have a plan before you go out that night,” she said. “You can volunteer to be the designated driver, and shoulder the responsibility of getting your friends and familty home safely. Arrange to be the designated driver, or use other options to get home safely. Call a taxi, take transit, or call a family friend or your mom and dad to pick you up. Remember, a designated driver is not the person who had the least amount of beer that night. Choose your designated driver before you go out that night.”

Kaulius told the students about the promise she made to her daughter, as she looked at her body on the hospital gurney before it was taken to the morgue.

“I leaned down to kiss my daughter goodbye, and I told her that I loved her and I was sorry I couldn’t protect her,” Kaulius told the students. “I remember standing there, and her whole life flashed in front of me.

“I stood there saying goodbye to my baby girl, my best friend, for the last time. I told her I was sorry I could not have stopped the impaired driver from drinking and driving, but I would do everything I could to make sure that another family would never have to go through what we were going through now. It broke my heart to say goodbye to her.”

She said her family soon realized they were living a nightmare, “but we were all awake, and we weren’t going to wake up and have this all go away. This was real. We were living every parent’s worst nightmare – someone had killed our child.”

Kaulius described what it was like to tell their other two children their baby sister was dead.

“I watched my oldest daughter fall to the floor with a blood-curdling scream. I tried to catch her as she hit the floor,” she recalled. “My son stood there with tears in his eyes and he couldn’t even speak.”

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Kaulius reminded the students that “life is all about the choices that we make, and I hope you’ll make all the right choices in life and keep yourselves safe. I hope you can all understand the consequences of risky behaviour when driving.

“And that means even speeding. Whether it be impaired driving, distracted driving such as talking on your phone, eating while driving, putting on makeup while driving, or checking your phone for messages.

“All of these actions can be deadly,” she warned. “It only takes seconds for a collision to occur.

“Please, do not drink or do drugs and drive,” Kaulius pleaded. “The devastation can spread through everyone you love.”

She also spoke about choice, and change.

“You all have the ability to make a choice. You can choose not to drink and drive, or do drugs and drive, and you can be the change that we need to see in the world by the decisions you make in your life as they can affect you for the rest of your life,”

“Her dream was to be a teacher, and she wanted to educate others, and maybe we can do that together. I ask that you go out and you speak to your friends, to your family. You tell her story, you tell them my story. We don’t want this to happen to another family.”

“Please be responsible, please be safe.”

With red, watering eyes, Kaulius tried to describe the toll the presentation took on her.

“It’s very draining for me emotionally but I feel like I’m a mother on a mission,” she told the Now-Leader. “I’m here to get the word out to these young people. These are up-and-coming drivers and they need to know the reality of impaired driving. Most families are not able to talk about it. I guess I’m trying to do the saddest job, what you want to do is to educate and that’s why I’m going around to all the schools in the future to educate these students because collisions can happen in seconds and I want them to understand it’s real life. When someone dies, you don’t get them back.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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