Kim Hancock, mom of DJ Hancock, who was killed by a drunk driver in August 2014, and other members of the Hancock family at the the launch of MADD Canada’s Red Ribbon campaign.
BY ARRON PICKARD, sudbury.com
The Hancock family has been forced into a club it never wanted to be a part of.
What parent would want to be part of a club whose child was killed by a drunk driver? No one would ever want that, said Kim Hancock, but “we are in that club now.”
“In the last three years, we’ve been to hell and back,” she said.
On Nov. 1, MADD Canada launched Project Red Ribbon in Sudbury. The campaign runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 2 to raise awareness about the dangers of impaired driving, especially during the busy Christmas and New Year holiday season. Red ribbons are distributed to Canadians to tie on their vehicles, keychains, purses, briefcases or backpacks as a symbol of their commitment to always drive sober.
In August 2014, DJ Hancock was killed by a drunk driver. He was on his way home from a hockey tryout when the vehicle he was driving was hit. He died at the scene. It’s a story that is well-known in Sudbury, and across all of Canada, said Patricia Hynes-Coates, MADD Canada national president, whose stepson, Nicholas Coates, was killed by a drunk driver in 2013.
That’s why the organization made DJ the face of this year’s campaign.
“DJ was young, he was very Canadian, his story resonated in the community, and it affected a lot of people throughout all of Canada,” she said. People have realized that, if this could happen to DJ and his family, then it could happen to them.”
Hynes-Coates knows full well the pain that comes with losing a child at the hands of a drunk driver.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “Whenever I hear of another person being killed by an impaired driver, I get so frustrated, and it just makes me dig in my heels even more to find a way to stop this from happening.”
Every year in Canada, hundreds of people are killed and tens of thousands are injured in crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs.
“With DJ’s tragic story, and the stories of so many other victims and survivors if impaired driving as our motivation, MADD Canada volunteers will be out in full force this holiday season, handing out red ribbons and reminding people about the dangers and consequences of impaired driving,” Hynes-Coates said.
For the Hancock family, they take solace on the fact DJ’s story may help save lives.
“DJ’s life was taken when it shouldn’t have been taken,” Kim Hancock said. “He was innocent in the whole situation. This emotional roller coaster of a life we have been put into is terrible. We know we need to do this.”
It’s also a way for the family to keep DJ’s memory alive.
“As a parent, you always want your child’s memory to live on. You don’t want people to forget him. The face people will see his photo all over Canada means people will be thinking about him, and thinking about the dangers of drinking and driving. So many people know our story, and not just here in Sudbury, and when you put a face with it, it’s no longer just a story. It takes on new meaning and has much more impact.”
Action Sudbury is preparing for its own Red Ribbon campaign launch on Nov. 25. The Festive RIDE program will also kick off that day.
An earlier story from Sudbury Living Magazine, Spring 2015
The death of No. 1
BY LAUREL MYERS
One moment, Dean (D.J.) Hancock was giving it his all at a tryout for the Sudbury Nickel Barons. Around 11:30 pm, moments after getting into his car and leaving the rink on Aug. 21, 2014, the 18-year-old was involved in a three-vehicle collision on the Hwy. 17 southwest bypass between Southview Dr. and Fielding Rd.
His parents, Kim and Dean, were following their son home from the arena and arrived at the accident minutes later. Hancock was pronounced dead at the scene.
Hancock was a recent graduate of the Nickel Capital Wolves after spending the last two seasons with the Great North Midget League team.
“I think there’s a lot of people still having a difficult time coming to grips and believing it’s true, that it really happened,” said Albert Corradini, general manager of the Nickel Capital Wolves. “A lot of these guys are rattled. You hear about stuff like this, but when it happens to someone close to you, it has a really different impact. This really brought them to a different sense of reality.”
While Corradini struggled to deal with the tragic news himself, the GM had no choice but to become a pillar of strength for the entire team. He had to find a way to help them all cope with the loss.
The team had a scheduled tryout for the night following the crash. Rather than cancel it, Corradini and team staff decided to open the room up to those closest to Hancock, and arranged for two grief counsellors to be on hand.
“The room was packed,” Corradini said. “There had to have been 150 people there. There were kids he went to school with, worked out with, adults. I don’t know if that kind of helped the healing process.”
The turnout was a testament to the kind of young man Hancock was.
“Dean’s heart was in the right place,” Corradini said. “Boys, in particular at this age, have a difficult time showing how much they care about anything. D.J. cared. He cared a lot. He cared about his teammates beyond belief, he cared about the team, he cared about the staff.
“For all the fire and passion in him, I don’t think the kid had a malicious bone in his body. He really was a great young man.”
The players were given the option to forgo the next few practices. In fact, many of them skipped the next practice to erect a memorial on the side of the road where the collision took place. The memorial was moved near the Gerry McCrory e Countryside Sports Complex in December because the Hancocks were concern that people might get hit by traffic when visiting the original site.
The memorial provides an intimate glimpse into Hancock’s life. Hockey equipment and trophies; a weight bench and protein powder; a bottle of Jägermeister; flowers, photos and hundreds of signatures arranged around a cross marked with the No. 16.
Corradini had plans to retire Hancock’s number, but Owen Fransen wouldn’t have it. The Wolves forward wants to keep his friend close to his heart by wearing Hancock’s number this season.
“Owen is one of those kids who has been really affected by this,” Corradini said. “He was one of the first people on the scene. He was at that same Barons tryout. It’s really shaken him up.”
Despite his strong shell, Corradini hasn’t been spared from the grips of grief either.
“As much as the kids came to us looking for strength, I think in a lot of respects, we found strength in them, too,” he said. “Having them all come together and show that type of emotion and how much they care makes you feel better about all the things you do.”
With a great deal of time spent on the road with the team each season, Corradini said “you can’t help but get close to them.”
“You’re together with them more in some cases than your own family,” he added. “You find out an awful lot about these kids, you find out what makes them tick.”
He said Hancock’s death evoked “a bit of soul searching about how close you want to get to these kids.”
“But in the end, you have to remember the one tragic event like this doesn’t outweigh all the good that comes from the relationships and bonds you forge with these kids,” he said. “D.J. was one of those kids.”
Walter Carter, 39, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death in the crash and was sentenced to five years in prison, including a 10-year driving licence suspension.