Following last week's sentencing of the driver in a pedestrian accident that claimed the lives of two University of Calgary students in 2003, the parents of Brian Collins and Joah Atkinson are committed to focusing on the positive projects to come out of their loss.
Two annual U of C awards have been set up in the young couple's name, as well as a Picnic at the Bench event slated for this summer to remember the pair and raise pledge money for the Forever Young Team in the 2005 BURNCO Calgary Marathon. The proceeds will go towards increasing the Brian Collins and Joah Atkinson Memorial Awards.
A garden and bench in the center of campus were dedicated to the couple in 2004.
"We raised $20,000 last year through pledges," said Joah's father, Tim Atkinson, noting the Forever Young Team had 130 members in last year's marathon including a large number of Brian and Joah's friends and fellow athletes. "But we weren't really able to get the message out there about the marathon."
The Atkinson and Collins families are hoping to change that this year by holding a Picnic at the Bench Event, Sat., Jul. 9 to celebrate the lives of Brian and Joah, as well as to raise awareness about the marathon which takes place the following day.
"That weekend has become our Brian and Joah legacy," said Joah's mother, Cease Atkinson from the family's home in Surrey, B.C. "Our theme is 'life runs on,' and it is a great way for the kids to move on. The kids at the university, Brian and Joah's friends will move on. This year we're going to make it fun."
People of any fitness level can take part, choosing to either walk or run in the full marathon, half marathon or 10K event.
The driver of the vehicle, Calgary resident Sandra Evans, was convicted of careless driving and failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk on Tue., Mar. 15. She received the maximum sentence for her crimes--a $2,000 fine and three months probation on her driver's license. Both families felt the sentence sent a strong message about the risks of careless driving.
"There really is no other thing than careless driving she can be charged with," said Brian's father, Dave Collins. "Within that constraint they gave her the maximum, and considering two lives are lost, that's reasonable. In the court case she made quite an emotional statement that she was sorry."
Collins added Evans, a mother of five, has the option of commuting her fine into public service time speaking to youth and students about her experience.
"I thought that was a good idea," he said. "It's a tough thing to do but it should make a greater difference than the fine. For a lot of people they think these things happen to other people. I think it's like anything else, sometimes the odds don't work out in your favour. For us, it's another chapter closed."
The Atkinsons also believe the verdict will help them move on.
"I think the judge's message was that everyone's got to slow down," said Tim Atkinson. "She said all of this killing has to stop and there is only one way. We're all guilty of speeding.
"The loss is never over but we all have family, we all have friends. Life goes on, but we have to grab hold of it and send that message."
Both the Collins and Atkinsons took part in last year's run and will do so again this year. Cease and Tim Atkinson expressed their heartfelt thanks to Mary Kelly, a U of C staff member and friend of the Collins family. Kelly spearheaded the bench dedication.
The Atkinsons also acknowledged the support of the U of C rugby teams who opened their doors last year to over 60 members of Joah's friends and family who made the trip from B.C. to run.
"The rugby team put everyone up," said Cease Atkinson. "The doors are open this year as well--a big thank you to all of the students at the U of C from us."
Brian's sister, also a student at the U of C, accepted a Bachelor of Political Science degree in Brian's name in April 2004.