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It is the knock at the door every parent dreads – a police officer there to tell you your child is dead.
That’s exactly what happened to one Hampshire father in the early hours of November 13, 2011.
His eldest daughter was on the A323 near Fleet when she lost control of her car and collided with a van. She was four times over the drink-drive limit and died instantly. She was just 23.
This Christmas her father - who does not wish to be named - is supporting Hampshire Constabulary’s 'Smashed' drink-drive campaign in the hopes that sharing his devastating experience could save young lives.
“My memory of the night I lost my daughter will haunt me and my family for the rest of our lives.
“I remember the police officer at the door asking to come in and for me to sit down.
"All I could think was if it is bad news surely he should just tell me. When he insisted I sat down I knew the news was going to be life-changing and as everyone knows now, it was.
“To lose someone you love in such a terrible way causes indescribable pain, not least because I had to work out how I was going to tell my children their big sister had died.
"When we later found out that my daughter had been drinking it made that pain so much more agonising – knowing that it was that decision which ultimately ended her life.
“I wanted to tell my story, her story, because I wanted people to see what devastation they can cause by making that choice. It’s a split second decision which can have far-reaching consequences.
“My daughter was a kind-hearted, loving and caring individual who went out of her way to put others first. She made a mistake. One that she paid for with her life and one we’re still reeling from as a family.”
Officers from Hampshire’s Roads Policing Unit will be travelling the length and breadth of the two counties this month with the young driver’s Vauxhall Corsa – the car she was driving that night - in a bid to show others the consequences of drink-driving.
The car will be in town and city centres from 7pm until 11pm on Friday, Saturday and student club nights in a bid to target the worst offending age group - 20 to 24 year age group. This group accounted for 22.9 per cent (55 of 240) of drink-drive arrests during Christmas 2011.
“It can’t fail to move you,” said Sergeant Jay Hewes, who was at the scene of the crash.
“This young woman made the wrong choice and it’s a tragedy that a split second decision cost her life and has shattered her family.
“But make no mistake; she was not any different from the hundreds of people we pull over every year who fail a breath test.
"Her old school mates and work colleagues would tell you she was a sweet, good natured and popular person and her family would say she was a devoted daughter and sister.
“She was not a bad person and that’s not how people will remember her. But it only took one wrong decision to devastate the lives of everyone who loved her.”
The young woman’s father will be joining members of the emergency services who attended the crash scene to release a series of short films targeting would-be drink drivers.
The films will be released daily for four days from Tuesday, December 4th and will chart the response to the fatal crash from the 999 call to the knock at her parents’ door.
Her father said:
“It has been just over a year since my daughter lost her life in that car, but the pain is as fresh as if it was the night it happened.
“To anyone else who would consider getting behind the wheel after having alcohol, I plead with you as a father, as the husband of a devastated mother, as the parent of two grieving children and on behalf of the many people who knew and loved my daughter, please don’t.
"You can’t imagine the pain you could leave behind, either for your family or for someone else’s.”
Sgt Hewes added:
“We don’t ever want to tell another parent, partner or child, that someone they love is gone, but chances are before the year is out, we will have to.
“If one person, regardless of their age, sits up and takes notice, this young person will have left a legacy her parents can take some comfort from and those who knew her can be proud of.”
Hampshire Constabulary is asking members of the public across the two counties to text 80999 to report anyone they suspect of drink driving or being drug impaired behind the wheel.
The information will be received anonymously, and senders simply need to text the precise location where the driver was last seen, direction of travel if possible, and as many vehicle details as possible – most importantly the number plate.
Chief Inspector Andy Bottomley, of the Joint Operations Unit Roads Policing for Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police, said:
“I’d like to thank the father of this young woman for supporting the constabulary in this campaign. I truly hope that by sharing his daughter’s story it can go some way to preventing further drink-drive deaths on our roads.
“I would ask members of the public to show their support for the campaign by not drink-driving and reporting to us those who do.”
The number is a text-only service, and will not take phone calls but anyone witnessing a drink drive offence in progress can call 999.
Crashed car display dates and locations;
Thursday, December 6 – Winchester: Middle Brook Street/Market Street
Friday, December 7 – Eastleigh, outside Swan Centre
Saturday, December 8 – Basingstoke, Market Square
Wednesday, December 12 – Portsmouth: Guildhall Walk
Friday, December 14 - Portsmouth [tbc]
Saturday, December 15 – Southampton: Guildhall
Friday, December 21 – Portsmouth: Gunwharf Quays
Saturday, December 22 – St Thomas’ Square, Newport, Isle of Wight
Friday, December 28 - Ryde, Isle of Wight
Saturday, December 29 - Sandown, Isle of Wight
Drink-drive figures 2011
Last year’s Christmas drink-drive arrests were up 9.1 per cent on 2010.
During the campaign - which ran from December 1 to January 1 - 240 people were arrested on suspicion of impaired driving.
Of those arrested on suspicion of drink driving, 197 were men and 43 were women – an 82.1 to 17.9 per cent split respectively.
Of the total arrested, 176 [73.3 per cent] were charged.
The 20 to 24 year age group had the higher number of arrests with 55 [22.9 per cent of the total]. The 17 to 19 year age group had the least amount of arrests, with 12 [five per cent] followed by the over 60s with 16 [6.67 per cent].
By area, north and east Hampshire had the highest number of arrests with 68 [28.33 per cent], followed by central Hampshire including Gosport, Fareham, Havant and Winchester with 50 arrests [20.83 per cent].
The Isle of Wight had the lowest number of arrests with 16 [6.67 per cent] followed by Portsmouth with 28 [11.67 per cent]. Southampton accounted for 37 arrested persons [15.42 per cent] and western Hampshire, including Test Valley, Eastleigh and New Forest area accounted for 40 [16.67 per cent]. One person was arrested on the force border.