For 16 years, Ken Sommerfeld has been encouraging Prince Charles Secondary School students to make choices that could save their lives. He’s done so knowing that a bad choice cost his son Tyler’s life.
He worked to bring the PARTY (Preventing Alcohol and Risk-related Trauma in Youth) program to Creston after eight PCSS students were killed in a three-year period. The program originated in Ontario.
“I’ve been telling the same story for 16 years,” Sommerfeld, a farmer, told a group of PCSS students who spent March 6 at Creston Valley Hospital, learning of the many risks teens face on a daily basis.
With a photo of Tyler on a display board behind him, Sommerfeld launched into his story, one that shattered the lives of a 16-year-old’s family.
“Before the Thanksgiving Day weekend, Tyler told me that some of the kids who had graduated from PCSS last year were coming home and that he wanted to go to a party,” he said. “I didn’t have a problem with that — Tyler wasn’t a big partier.
“The day of the party he decided to go and visit his mother. She lived in town. It was eerie to think of that later.”
Tyler joined his friends at a party east of town and at 11 p.m. he decided it was time to go home. He didn’t have a driver’s licence. In those days before cellphones, he still had a number of choices, his father explained. He could have made the long walk back home, found a ride with a sober driver, hitchhiked or stayed the night at the party site.
“Or he could hop in a car with an impaired driver,” Sommerfeld said, looking out at the group students, who were listening intently. “That will be a choice that you face for the rest of your lives.”
Tyler learned from one designated driver that her car was full.
“He made the worst possible choice he could have made.”
With four others, the tall, athletic young man got into a car that witnesses said hit speeds of 130 km/h before rounding the 90-degree turns on Highway 3 in Erickson. The driver navigated one such turn, but lost control at Checkerboard Corner. A memorial cross now marks the spot where Tyler died, killed instantly when the car flipped over, the roof crushing his head.
The driver, who would eventually do jail time and have his licence suspended for 10 years, and the front passenger were unhurt. Tyler’s two rear seatmates suffered minor injuries. The tallest of the car’s occupants, Tyler’s head took the brunt of the shock when the roof hit the ground.
Sommerfeld described the hours and days after the accident and then focused on the outcome.
“Tyler’s family got a life sentence,” he said. “You cannot balance the scale.”
The dream of an Olympic volleyball appearance died with him.
“I dreamed of playing the guitar with Tyler and his uncle,” Sommerfeld said. “That dream died for me that night — all for the sake of a 10-minute ride into town. No second chances. He is gone.”
Toxicology reports would later show that Tyler Sommerfeld had not had a drink of alcohol on that fateful evening.
Tomorrow: An overview of the program, which deals with far more safety issues than dirnking and driving.