Making a difference on Abbotsford’s roads

Const. Pat Kelly is one of the officers working to reduce traffic fatalities and crashes throughout the community.

Const. Pat Kelly is shown here on Highway 11 (near Harris Road)

Const. Pat Kelly is shown here on Highway 11 (near Harris Road)



Abbotsford Police Const. Pat Kelly was first on the scene of the crash at Townline and Upper Maclure roads.

A Mazda pickup had run a stop sign, smashing into the rear passenger door of an SUV, flipping it on its side on the front lawn of a home.

The mom and three kids were trapped. Kelly climbed onto the vehicle and peered through the windows. He saw a distraught mom and three kids, whom he would later learn were ages 12, 10 and 6.

The sight of the youngest made his heart lurch. The boy appeared lifeless, so deprived of oxygen that his dark skin was blue. Kelly was unable to get the boy out of the vehicle.

“This kid is going to die in front of me,” he thought.

Two other officers soon appeared on the scene and were able to pull the boy out of the SUV, as Kelly rushed over to the pickup that had hit them.

He immediately noticed an overpowering smell of alcohol. The passenger was almost imbedded in the windshield, and the driver was glazed and stunned.

Kelly felt a surge of anger rise, but he pushed it aside in order to conduct a proper investigation. Later, he questioned the driver in the hospital. The man was belligerent, refusing to accept that he was to blame for the crash and showing no remorse or concern for his victims.

The driver ended up pleading guilty to impaired driving and received a 15-month jail sentence.

The six-year-old boy survived, but was left a bedridden quadriplegic who can communicate only by blinking.

***

A blue Chevy Cavalier is headed north on Hwy. 11 (the Abbotsford-Mission Highway). Kelly spots a cellphone in the driver’s hand, but the motorist is oblivious that the Chevy Silverado two cars behind him is an unmarked police vehicle.

The driver pulls into the opposite lane and speeds up. Kelly also accelerates and follows the man, clocking him at 125 km/h in the 80 km/h zone before pulling him over just past Bateman Road.

Kelly informs the 25-year-old that he is being issued a ticket for excessive speed – more than 40 km/h over the speed limit – and his car must be impounded for seven days.

“You know, this is in the area where there was a fatality last year,” he tells the driver, pointing to the intersection where a 51-year-old man from Coquitlam was killed when a car made a left-hand turn in front of him.

Kelly often tells people about the fatalities he has seen – he refers to them as “a murder that happens in a car” – because he wants them to think about their driving habits. He has seen far too many lives changed by people who didn’t.

***

Kelly, who joined the Abbotsford Police Department 10 years ago, moved to the traffic section about 18 months ago after doing just about every job imaginable on patrol.

He became increasingly disturbed at the number of dangerous drivers on the roads. He saw the brutal outcome of their behaviour when he was the first officer on the scene of 13 fatal collisions in 2007 and ‘08.

Kelly took a one-month stress leave after the crash involving the six-year-old boy, and, on his first day back, he had to deal with another traffic fatality. His colleagues nicknamed him “Dr. Death.”

Kelly was motivated to make a difference. Plus he liked the idea of being in a vehicle all day rather than confined at times to filing reports in an office or being tied to the radio awaiting a call.

He now spends his 12-hour shift travelling some of Abbotsford’s 1,400 kilometres of road with a focus on three types of driving behaviours – excessive speed, distracted driving and impaired/prohibited driving.

“People are going to crash into each other – there’s no getting around that – but those are the people who cause the most damage and hurt families,” he said.

Excessive speed is most common on the arterial routes through town – Highway 11, Townline, Maclure, Harris and Downes, for example – and Kelly focuses much of his enforcement in these areas.

“At those speeds, I’ve seen what happens to people, and it’s not pretty.”

The APD has a squad of unmarked cars available to the traffic section, and Kelly’s preference is one of the trucks. This gives him an elevated view of drivers – an easy way to pinpoint cellphone use. Despite laws enacted three years ago to target distracted driving, Kelly believes the problem is worse than ever.

“I see more cellphones in a day than I can get to … It’s epidemic,” he said.

He’s heard all the excuses: “My boss called and I had to answer.” “My mom is sick so I was calling the hospital.” “I was expecting an important call about test results.”

No matter the excuse or the reason for pulling them over, Kelly believes in treating everyone with respect. He doesn’t raise his voice or lecture.

“Most people are good people. They just make poor choices.”

Often, at the back of his mind, is that devastating vision of the six-year-old boy trapped in the SUV and the trauma his family has had to endure.

“It’s those types of instances that are ingrained in my head, and aren’t going to go …

“Is it possible I’m going to prevent fatalities doing enforcement?

“I don’t know, but I hope so.”

For a story on Abbotsford’s traffic statistics, click here.

For a story on how the Abbotsford Police Department has made road safety its top priority for 2013, click here.