Chad Olsen, a man convicted of drunk driving in a crash that killed two parents of five children in 2010 spoke to a group of teens over the weekend about the consequences of drinking and driving and how his life has changed since he made the decision to get behind the wheel while impaired.
The accident happened on Feb. 7, 2010 at about 2 a.m. after the truck Olsen was driving slammed into another vehicle at the intersection of Ironstone Dr. and 30 Ave. His blood alcohol level was found to have been three times over the legal limit.
Brad and Krista Howe, passengers in the vehicle that Olsen hit, died on scene.
Olsen, who was one of the guest speakers as part of Teen Empowerment Day at Red Deer College, told a group of about 60 youngsters that he had finished driving to Red Deer from his job in Saskatchewan when he decided to stop at a friend’s house and have some drinks earlier that night.
“I didn’t feel like I was intoxicated and unable to drive and I decided I was going to head home. I was pretty tired and not very alert whatsoever and I didn’t realize how much the alcohol had affected me until later on, but it caused me to be exhausted and not realize what was going on,” he said. “I ended up proceeding through the intersection and I didn’t see the other vehicle until the last minute. I woke up and I could see their vehicle across the street from me and the two people in the vehicle weren’t moving.”
Olsen said an ambulance arrived on scene and took him to the hospital.
“I kept asking what happened to the people in the other vehicle and finally a police officer told me that they had passed away. At that moment I had no idea exactly what I had done. It was all a shock.”
Olsen received a two-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to two counts of impaired driving causing death. After his sentence was handed down the Alberta Court of Appeal increased that sentence by 15 months.
He served eight months in prison and was released early but is on bail and has to check in with Correctional Services of Canada on a daily basis until his sentence is up.
“The real sentence is a life sentence. I deal with it everyday and I think about it everyday. I think about (the Howe’s) five kids and their family, what I have done, how many people I’ve hurt and I can never take it back, but if I could, I definitely would.”
Olsen, who is originally from Sedalia, said he started experimenting with drinking when he was about 14-years-old.
“I would have a drink here and there and started going to small bush parties and it slowly progressed. Throughout high school I would go out and have drinks with friends and as I grew older I didn’t see it as a problem and I didn’t see drinking and driving as a huge problem in my life.
“When I moved on to college I went to SAIT in Calgary and it became a bad habit – I would go out every week and I tried not to drink and drive – I tried to use other resources to get home. But every time I came home (to Sedalia) it was a normal thing and everyone turned a blind eye to it. So I didn’t see it as a huge problem.”
Olsen said his family has been supportive since the accident.
“Their outlook definitely has changed. It was really hard on my parents for sure like it would be for any parent. They take it upon themselves and blame themselves often for our mistakes,” he said. “They love me and support me and they are happy that I am speaking out and trying to make a difference.”
Meanwhile, Olsen is advocating to change the laws to make penalties for drinking and driving stricter.
“I see it all around me still and nobody is standing up or saying anything or stopping it. The laws aren’t changing and it keeps happening day in and day out,” he said. “I’d like to see a change in the laws. I think that is the only way to prevent this from happening. Zero tolerance is a necessity because there are so many occasions where people go out and think that it is ok to have one or two drinks but it’s never the case. It usually starts with one or two and then ends up being four or five drinks.”
Olsen added he has been working with Sandra Green, the mother of Krista Howe, in her effort to change the laws as well.
“I’m trying to support her fight and her cause because I want to see the laws changed just as much. I want to see people get deterred away from doing what I did.”
He encouraged the group of teens to talk about the consequences of drinking and driving amongst their peers.
“Each and everyone of you needs to speak up or don’t put yourselves in my shoes. I never thought I would do what I did and here I am. It can happen to every one of you.”