Anger, hurt five years on from loss

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by Daisy Hudson

JARRAD Blackler should have turned 29 yesterday.

But thanks to the actions of a man who got behind the wheel after a night at the pub, he will forever be 23.

His death drastically changed the lives of those around him, and now, five years on, his parents have agreed to speak about their grief in the wake of police concerns about drink driving.

Police caught 16 drink drivers in Timaru from September 25 to October 26.

Of those, four were facing a third or subsequent drink driving charge. The highest reading was 1017mcg — nearly three times the legal limit.

Rachel and Graeme Blackler wonder what it will take for people to get the message.
On May 9, 2015, they farewelled their son Jarrad after watching him score a try in the Kurow senior rugby team’s victory over Maheno. He was going to celebrate with drinks after the game, and had booked a room to stay in for the night.

But shortly before 2am, the Blacklers’ phone rang.

‘‘A policeman said Jarrad had been in an accident, it was serious and he was being flown to Dunedin Hospital,’’ Mr Blackler said.

They raced to Dunedin, at one point seeing the rescue helicopter carrying their son fly over them.

‘‘When we got there we knew it was bad, because nobody was really looking at us.’’

After initially being on life support, Jarrad died in hospital on May 11. The family made the difficult decision that he would be an organ donor. They would later learn that after drinking together at a local pub, a group including Jarrad decided to head to another address to continue celebrating about 11.30pm.

The police summary of facts at the sentencing of the driver, Regan Laughton, stated he was asked to slow down by one of the passengers on more than one occasion.

It was about midnight when he lost control of the car while rounding a bend.

He tried to bring the vehicle back on to the road, but it began to slide and subsequently rolled.

What followed was a traumatic 18 months of legal wrangling. Mr Laughton was eventually convicted of one count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing death and four counts of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury.

He was sentenced to 11 months’ home detention and 140 hours’ community service, and ordered to pay $12,000 in emotional harm to four of the The Blacklers are still angry about the legal process. They feel there need to be tougher sentences to deter drink drivers. As well as anger, there is a lot of hurt. They are still grieving the loss of a life that carried so much promise.

Jarrad had returned to the then family home at Dansey’s Pass to help his father on the farm.

‘‘Everyone’s struggled,’’ Mrs Blackler said, her voice breaking with emotion as she spoke of the family’s loss.

‘‘We still do. Losing Jarrad is something we will never get over. We can only learn to live with it.’’

His friends tell them how Jarrad would have been in their wedding parties, and have made special mention of him at the ceremonies. He would have been an uncle now. To anyone who was considering getting behind the wheel after drinking, or getting into a vehicle with someone who had been, Mrs Blackler had a simple message.

‘‘Don’t. It’s not worth it.

‘‘No one is pretending to be a saint here. In our earlier lives we have been part of the same communities that struggle with the challenge of alcohol and driving in rural areas.

‘‘But, what we are saying is don’t learn these lessons the hard way like we’ve had to.

‘‘The consequences of making a poor decision are far reaching and will never go away. Look after your mates, help them make the right choices.’’

Senior Sergeant Anthony Callon, of Timaru, said there were consistent levels of drink driving in Timaru, and for a portion of society, the message just was not getting through.

Police often found that in crashes involving drink› drivers, the driver was not the one seriously injured or killed.

‘‘It’s the father or mother or children in the other car. Some idiot who’s had a skinful at the pub and decides to drive to go and get takeaways, he or she walks away from it.’’

As the pre Christmas period drew closer, bringing with it a bevy of work parties and functions, police would be out in force to ensure people did not get behind the wheel after drinking.

‘‘People can expect to see us at checkpoints all over the place, during the day and night. ’’