Scholarship awarded for Drive Safe, Someone Loves You, Wendy Clark Memorial Award

The family of Wendy Clark continued their safe driving advocacy a year after losing their daughter, mother and grandmother, who was fatally injured by a hit-and-run driver on Main St. in October 2022.

Rachel Mattsson, daughter of the Morpeth woman, hosted a ceremony in Chatham on Wednesday, Nov. 15, in observance of National Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims and the kickoff of Chatham-Kent Police’s Festival R.I.D.E. program.

Last Wednesday, Mattsson attended an undergrads’ assembly at Ridgetown District High School to present the first Drive Safe, Someone Loves You, Wendy Clark Memorial Award.

It was an emotional scene as she presented a $500 scholarship to Skylar Rutledge, who, last spring, as a Grade 10 student, wrote the winning essay on the actions a passenger can take when riding in a vehicle being driven by an impaired or distracted driver.

“It becomes emotional because, with each event, there is the reality these are memorial events for my mother,” Mattsson said.

Mrs. Clark was 66 when she died in Windsor Hospital on Oct. 21, 2022, two days after being struck by a hit-and-run driver on Main St. as she was about to cross the street to go to a pharmacy.

Chatham-Kent Police quickly located and arrested a 38-year-old Ridgetown man, thanks to witness statements and surveillance video. He was charged with multiple offences as the case goes to trial in February.

After attending the 2022 National Day of Remembrance ceremony hosted by the Chatham-Kent Police, Mattsson stepped up to host this year’s observance at Chatham Chrysler.

Mrs. Clark’s 87-year-old mother, Alma Marleen Allen, attended the ceremony, along with Rachel and her husband Peter and daughter Isabella, as their oldest, Linnea, is at university.

Families of other fatal and life-altering crashes were also in attendance, along with Chatham-Kent Police officers, the regional director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a large contingent of local print and on-air media.

“My mom’s accident is my reality, and not letting her die in vain is what brings me to stand here today, to bring awareness to unsafe driving,” said Mattsson, as she began thinking about her awareness campaign while her mother was in Windsor hospital. “It’s honouring her and making awareness, but it’s also about healing. It was a huge part of my grief and getting past things, and I haven’t stopped yet.”

“I really feel when we do things that make us happy, that we’ve done something for our loved ones, it keeps them alive in some ways,” said Mattsson.

CKPS Constable Kristen Charron, a collision investigator, distributed sobering statistics that showed police had already laid 105 impaired driving changes in 2023 – and No. 106 would come shortly after the ceremony ended less than two kilometres away in downtown Chatham.

Police have attended 41 accidents that involved impaired drivers that resulted in eight deaths so far in 2023, compared to 110 impaired charges and 51 impaired accidents that led to nine deaths in all of 2022.

“As a police service, it’s very disheartening,” Charron said of this year’s increase, which included 15 impaired charges laid in October alone. “We try to promote road safety and educate people as best we can, and I feel we do a good job, along with our partners.”

“What is hard, I don’t think the message is getting through,” Charron said.

The numbers were upsetting to Mattsson.

“These are more than statistics to me; these are lives cut short, and the impacts these collisions have on families and victims are immeasurable,” Mattsson said. “It is the personal stories of those who experience the grief associated with losing a loved one or a life-changing time injury that resonates deeply.”

The families lit a candle in honour of their loved ones, and the pie was served to attendees in memory of the four ‘Pie Ladies’ who lost their lives 16 years ago when a drunk driver struck their vehicle head-on.

Verna Neaves, Marion Dawson, Jean Ripley and Bernice Phillips lost their lives in the early evening hours of Saturday, Nov. 24, 2007, after attending a church function.

After the ceremony, the CKPS launched their 2023 Festive R.I.D.E. program at the Pie Ladies’ accident site on Keil Dr. N. between McNaughton Ave. W. and Baldoon Road.

Mattsson and other attendees accompanied police to distribute literature to drivers in the spot check.

Cst. Charron said the CKPS will conduct R.I.D.E. spot checks “anywhere at any time” throughout Chatham-Kent during the holiday season.

Mattsson said she will continue advocating for unsafe driving awareness and offer a second scholarship with an essay contest in the new year.

The family sold key chains with the inscription ‘Drive Safe Someone Loves You’ and her mother’s WC initials to finance the scholarships.

Anonymous donors funded a memorial bench with the same inscription and ‘in loving memory of Wendy Clark,’ located in front of the Riverside Ice Cream store.

“It was nice to sit on the bench and have an ice cream with my mom all summer,” Mattsson said.

Michael Bennett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News