Speaker recalls drunken drive that changed his whole life

Brian McInnis bmcinnis@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 1, 2009

The night in June nine years ago when Kevin Brooks lost his best friend in a car crash he was doing what he did frequently - partying, drinking and driving.
"I drove drunk leaving a party, something I did on a regular basis in those days and I was speeding, just not being smart and I crashed. My passenger was my childhood friend, Brendan, who I grew up with playing hockey. He died in the crash and I was paralyzed from the sternum down,'' Brooks said in an interview Saturday at UPEI, where he was one of the speakers at the 2009 Canadian Youth Against Impaired Driving conference.
He spent two months in hospital, five weeks "pretty much comatose'' and four months in rehabilitation learning how to use a wheelchair. He also had to learn to live with just the use of his arms, fingers and hands "as opposed to an entire body like I used to.''
He is paralyzed from the upper chest down and does not have the use of stomach or back muscles.
Nine years have almost passed since that night on a road in Surrey, B.C., but the memories are still hard for Brooks, who is now 30.
"It's coming up to that awkward, weird, strange, painful anniversary of June 24,'' he said.
For the past six or seven years (he says it has been a bit of a blur and a whirlwind) he has been speaking in schools about the dangers and stupidity of drinking and driving. He has brought his message to more than 600 schools across Canada and even some schools in the United States. That translates to well over 200,000 people who have heard his words.
"I wanted to do it because what happened is so tragic, life changes instantly and what I loved to do I can't do anymore and my best friend is dead and so many people are hurt. I thought this is going to kill me for the rest of my life unless I do something good with it,'' Brooks said in explaining why he travels the country preaching his message.
Because he was a wild, crazing, partying and fast driving guy who assumed he was invincible, he thought people who do those kinds of things would listen to him "because I am one of them and they are me, right.''
He said he gets endless personal stories and several hours a day are spent responding to students who heard his message and it helped them make better decisions. He has a website www.kevinbrooks.ca that contain stories and messages from students across the country.
Brooks says the stories and thank you messages are endless.
During the Charlottetown conference a teacher from Saskatchewan came up to him and told Brooks that ever since he spoke in their school the students have chosen a designated driver for every weekend.
"It feels really good after what I have gone through. I know I can't change what happened, but I have learned a lot from that and turned it into something positive that maybe makes a difference in someone else's life and that is an amazing feeling that keeps me going.''
Before the accident Brooks had a variety of jobs, but he said he mainly partied. His father worked at a gravel pit and Brooks worked there doing many jobs and the plan was for him to take over from the retiring electrician, but the accident changed all that.
"You can't climb up ladders in a wheelchair.''
He began speaking in elementary schools after the accident and one thing led to another and the Insurance Bureau of British Columbia approached him about getting involved in its road safety program by speaking to high school students and it just went from there, he said.
Canadian Youth Against Impaired Driving was formed in 1990 as an effort to unite impaired driving related youth initiatives across Canada. It represents more than 25,000 youths and 400 of them were at the Charlottetown conference.