Drink-drive DVD painfully personal for father

By Rebecca Ryan

Since November 26, 2008, 511 people facing sentence for drink-driving have been confronted in the Oamaru District Court with the tragic consequences of drink-driving as part of an innovative restorative justice programme. That material is now being updated with a focus on the death of a Duntroon teenager. North Otago reporter Rebecca Ryan finds out more.
Mitchell Clarke's Mazda 626 car, which left SH83 and crashed into a stock underpass east of the Otekaieke River bridge. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Mitchell Clarke's Mazda 626 car, which left SH83 and crashed into a stock underpass east of the Otekaieke River bridge. Photo / Otago Daily Times

For Tarras man Graham Clarke, it is still very difficult to talk about the death of his son.

Mitchell Clarke, a young Duntroon dairy farm worker, died when his car left State Highway 83 in the Waitaki Valley at high speed and crashed into a stock underpass on April 24, 2011.

It was 1.30am.

Mitchell had been celebrating his 19th birthday and after being taken home by a sober driver, he and a friend decided to head out again.

He had a blood-alcohol level of 220mg, 140mg over the legal limit.

Almost five years on, the "scab's still pretty thin'', Mr Clarke says.

"It's pretty emotional talking about this now - sometimes it's easy to talk about it, sometimes it's not.

"It only requires the right trigger to make it pretty raw.''

Mitchell's crash is being used as a graphic example of how lives can be lost as a result of drinking too much alcohol and driving too fast in a DVD produced by the Waitaki District Council and Restorative Justice.

The hard-hitting DVD will be played to drink-drivers, who choose to take part, before they are sentenced in the Oamaru District Court.

After viewing the DVD, the offenders complete a questionnaire, which is then handed to the sitting judge.

The answers and attitudes are taken into consideration during sentencing.

Graham Clarke. Photo / Supplied
Graham Clarke. Photo / Supplied

Restorative justice co-ordinator Derek Beveridge said the drink-driving programme aimed to have offenders see first-hand the effects of drink-driving on families, friends and the community in general.

It was six years since the programme was launched and the existing material had become dated, Mr Beveridge said.

Mr Clarke and his family agreed to have Mitchell's crash as the feature of the new DVD because they wanted to promote the view that "it's actually getting drunk that's the problem''.

"There's a variety of ways we get ourselves into trouble, or worse, when we're drunk,'' he said.

In Mitchell's case, it happened to be getting behind the wheel of a car.

"The thing we know for sure is, they drove out in Mitchell's car ... headed back out to one of the pubs.

"Then, on the way home travelling at considerable speed, it would seem, Mitch fell asleep, or in any case ran straight off the road.''

Mitchell was a good son, a hard-working young man and a high achiever, taken from the community in the prime of his life, Mr Clarke said.

Alcohol impaired his son's ability to think coherently that night.

"The sober driver dropped everybody off that night and then the plans changed - and Mitchell wasn't in a state to say: 'This isn't such a great idea.'

"Bright, extraordinary, hard-working champions'' like Mitchell were dying every weekend because alcohol was impairing their decision-making ability and something needed to change, Mr Clarke said.

There was no safe minimal "dose'' of alcohol and he was concerned that, nationally, drink-driving campaigns still condoned drinking.

"Unfortunately, the message from the advertisers remains 'get pissed - it's fine as long as you don't be an idiot and drive'.''

The restorative justice DVD put education about drink-driving in the context of the sentencing process, which was a step in the right direction, Mr Clarke said.

"It's a fairly sobering video they've put together, particularly when you see the people that deal with that sort of stuff. They were clearly quite emotional, four years after the [crash]."

"I really commend Elton [Crane, Waitaki District Council road safety co-ordinator] and the team who have done it.''

The DVD also features interviews with the passenger in Mitchell's car when it crashed, Timothy Larkins, and emergency services personnel who attended the callout.

Senior Sergeant Jason McCoy, of Oamaru, said deaths as a result of drink-driving in the Waitaki district were "well above the national average''.

"It needs to stop.''

Mr Crane said the DVD was raw and straight to the point and he hoped it would make offenders face what they did.

"But also, the potential of how bad it could've been.

"It's [also] about them addressing their drinking and their driving and then when they leave the court, we want them to have some plans in place to drink more safely and to avoid drink-driving.''

Mr Beveridge expected the new DVD, which will be officially launched by April, to be much more effective.

A high percentage of those watching knew people featured in the DVD, and that local segment was the key to it, he said.

- Otago Daily Times

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