Hundreds of family members, friends and ordinary citizens packed the Parkland Funeral Home on July 10 to celebrate the life of 13-year-old Anouluck ‘Jeffrey’ Chanminaraj, whose tragic death on Canada Day has shocked and angered countless Red Deerians.
“The initial emotion was, ‘Who could do this to such a kid? And there is a lot of anger,” said Pongsavane Praseutsith, a cousin and family spokesman, who added that at least part of the family anger is a result of police laying drunk driving charges against the operator of the pick-up truck in connection to Jeffrey’s death.
“There is always that element of anger lingering especially in circumstances where it could have been prevented,” added Praseutsith, one of more than 40 cousins, aunts and uncles who came to the funeral from many parts of western Canada and the United States. “Right now the main thing is to grieve and not point any fingers, and to just celebrate his life.”
Jeffrey, whose family are part of the small but close knit Laotian community, was killed late in the evening on Canada Day when the vehicle he was in, driven by his 20-year-old sister Stephanie, collided with a pick-up truck at the intersection of Taylor and Kerry Wood drives. Jeffrey and Stephanie, along with their 18-year-old brother Jamie, were on their way to see the fireworks at Bower Ponds.
The driver of the pick-up truck – Rodney Arens, 32, of Red Deer – is now facing numerous Criminal Code charges, including impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, three charges of refusing to provide a breathalyzer sample and breach of recognizance. Arens will appear in Red Deer provincial court on July 23.
Although both Stephanie and Jamie sustained injuries in the collision both made emotional appearances at Saturday’s funeral.
Jamie, who suffered serious injuries, was brought into the funeral home by stretcher by Red Deer Emergency Services personnel. He was taken to the front of Jeffrey’s casket where he spent several minutes in quiet and painful contemplation. He was then moved to the side of the packed chapel for the hour-long service, which was officiated in the Buddhist faith.
Immediately following the funeral ceremony Stephanie delivered an emotional eulogy for her little brother – praising him, like so many other citizens have done over the past week, as a kind, generous young man whose mission in his young life was simply to make others around him happy.
“It is a sad day for everyone. Jeffrey was an amazing person. No words can capture the pain of our feelings. I miss him so much,” said Stephanie, adding it was important that everyone reach out together to celebrate Jeffrey’s life. “He was a giver. He never expected anything from anybody.
“He was my helper,” she said of her little brother, a Central Middle School student who was coming of age with an interest in girls, guitar playing and dreams of being a rock and roll star. “He did everything I asked. He wanted so much to please.”
Meanwhile, Jeffrey’s family continues to struggle with the reality of the tragedy.
“We are trying to stay together as a family. Obviously that is very difficult considering the circumstances,” said Praseutsith, a former practicing lawyer in Australia and now a Red Deer businessman. “It has been difficult for people not to say, ‘If I was only there’, or ‘If things happened differently, the choices we made specifically that night, all these events would not have occurred.
“You can drive yourself crazy thinking about these things, replaying the situation in your head but in the end it happened,” he added. “I’d like to say it was his time but who really knows.”