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Loss of friend haunts driver now in wheelchair

When Kevin Brooks told high school students around Prince George this week about the consequences of his decision to get behind the wheel while drunk, it was sometimes hard to tell which was worse - that he is now in a wheelchair or that a best frien

When Kevin Brooks told high school students around Prince George this week about the consequences of his decision to get behind the wheel while drunk, it was sometimes hard to tell which was worse - that he is now in a wheelchair or that a best friend died in the crash.

A self-described wild man, Brooks went by the nickname "The Creature" while attending high school in the Okanagan, and he was never one to shy away from a beer or 10.

He and his friends also had a nasty habit of driving dangerously, often after downing more than a few drinks and smoking marijuana. But even when there was a crash, they'd walk away.

Then, one night, his luck ran out.

Brooks got a call from a few old hockey buddies and used that as a reason to celebrate. They bar hopped until closing time but while most of them decided to take a taxi home, Brooks decided to drive.

"I could've hopped in that taxi, I could've walked, I could have stayed at a party on the couch or the floor, in a friggin' garden with a rock for a pillow at that moment," Brooks told about 100 students at Kelly Road Secondary School. "I could've called for a ride home...because my parents knew what I was doing, it was the weekend, they knew I had my car."

What's more, his friend, Brendon Beuk got into Brooks' car with him.

Driving his Chevy Z-24 Cavalier, Brooks was going 130 km/h in a 70 km/h zone, "way too fast if I was sober, let alone drunk.

"And I was like excessively drunk, excessively speeding, new driver, inexperienced, reckless, tunes cranked, beers cracked...one of these things was enough to cause a crash."

Brooks failed to negotiate a curve and struck a divider. His car flipped front over back and ended up a "mangled mess." Beuk suffered a serious head injury and did not survive but Brooks was not told until much later.

Brooks' injuries amounted to a grocery list: dislocated left shoulder, separated right shoulder, both collarbones broken, an arm so shredded it was nearly amputated, a collapsed lung, a fractured vertebrae where his neck meets his back and damage to his spinal cord.

What perhaps was his only smart move of the night, Brooks had put on his seat belt. It kept him restrained upside down in the wreck and kept the blood and fluid from pooling in his lungs and killing him.

Facing only a 20 to 30 per cent chance of living, Brooks was transported to Vancouver Hospital where he was bed ridden for six weeks, taking his meals through a tube that reached his stomach through his nose while enduring the indignity of another tube placed at the other end.

An additonal tube was put down his throat to assist his breathing. When it was first taken out, Brooks was so weak he could take only two breaths and it took a week-and-a-half of such sessions to gain the strength to finally breath on his own.

When his mother finally delivered the news that Beuk had died it was a shock.

"I did not see that one coming," Brooks said.

Brooks thought seriously of pulling the plug when the doctors and nurses weren't looking - he still had use of his arms. But in the end, he just couldn't do it.

The guilt continued - he felt bad when he smiled after making such progress as finally pulling on a pair of jeans without help. "I thought, how can I smile? My friend is dead," Brooks said.

And there was still the matter of facing Beuk's parents. Brooks mother gave him their phone number and when he finally worked up the courage to call, Beuk's mother answered. When he told her his name, she broke down crying.

Nonetheless, Brooks visited their home, not sure what to say or how they were going to react. A big weight was lifted when Beuk's father took him outside and reminded him that his son also made a choice that night.

Brooks has been a road safety speaker for ICBC for the last 11 years and over that time has appeared at more than 1,000 high schools across North America.

His presentation Thursday ended with a video montage of photos and footage from Brooks before the crash - skateboarding, snowboarding, partying, posing with his family and friends - and ending with a photo of Brendon Beuk, 1980-2000.