On Nov. 26, 2011, the lives of three Edmonton-area families were changed forever after a fatal crash near Beaumont. On Saturday, two of the families marked the grim anniversary together for the first time.
Thaddeus Lake, 22, Bradley Arsenault, 18, and Kole Novak, 18, were driving home when they were struck by a drunk driver near Highway 625 and 60 Street. All three died at the scene.
He describes the next few days as a web of emotions.
“Incredibly complex, a whirlwind of negative activity, heightened emotions, anger, fear, depression, just a plethora of turmoil and helplessness.”
His feelings became more complicated when he learned that, at the time, police suspected the other driver was impaired.
Thad’s mother Karen said it has been difficult to process never being able to see her son alive again.
She describes Thad as a young man who loved life, cared for others and was passionate about music.
“Music was a part of who he was, whether it was playing the drums at church or playing in a band,” she said. “He loved the performance of it. That was his thing – he loved to perform.”
The Lakes are focusing their energies on the Thaddeus Lake Music Foundation, which financially supports children in their pursuit of music. It was set up shortly after his death.
“We’ve been running it for five years. I honestly think that was a gift from Thad because that has been our best chance at healing, our best way to move forward in life. We see his love of music being continued in other kids that wouldn’t normally have the chance,” Karen Lake said.
When asked whether she thinks about what Thad’s life would look life, Karen Lake said no.
“It hurts too much. You see his friends and we’ve been blessed by his friends still coming around. They still call us. They come for brunch. I have to move myself from thinking ‘what would he be doing now’ to being happy for what they are doing,” she said.
The Lakes spent some time on Saturday with Rob and Sheri Arsenault, marking the first time the families had gathered together on the fatal anniversary.
Sheri describes the shock of learning about the three deaths in 2011.
“The one thing I will never forget is when they said my son is dead and then Kole and Thad. It was the three of them. I still have a hard time believing it,” Sheri Arsenault said.
“I struggle many days but I’m trying to find that balance of grief and appreciating and seeing joy in other things that happen with our other child, with family.”
Rob reflects on Brad, who he said loved adrenaline sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and dirt biking.
“All these boys have been gone for five years,” he said.
“I suspect we’ll be learning to live without Brad for the rest of our lives.”
Sheri has spent the last few years pushing the federal government for stricter penalties on those caught driving while drunk. She has been lobbying for the House to pass Bill C-226, which would see stricter penalties for people who drink and drive.
“It devastates families every single day. There are four new moms in these shoes. We feel it’s non-partisan. We feel that something will be done,” Arsenault said.
Karen said she does not think of Johnathan Pratt, the driver convicted in her son’s death, and describes him as a “non-issue.”
“I don’t think I have to forgive him. He hasn’t asked for my forgiveness. I don’t feel like I have to forgive him to actually move on with my life,” Lake said.
Despite that, Tony said he hopes there is some type of rehabilitation for Pratt, who was sentenced to eight years behind bars in 2014.
“We hope there is some understanding on his part that it doesn’t re-occur, that the incidents surrounding this tragedy are not repeated obviously,” Tony said.
Sheri, meanwhile, struggles to answer when asked if she will one day forgive Pratt.
“I like to think of myself as a forgiving person but it’s a tough word. I honestly don’t have a good answer for that. Maybe next year I’ll have a better answer or the year after,” she said.
Both families plan to spend time with their immediate families on Saturday night to remember their sons.
“I think those three boys are together. They try to send as much light as they can to their families to help us go forward every year,” Sheri said.