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Memorial bench dedicated to West Island woman killed by drunk driver

Memorial bench dedicated to Jessica Sarli-Rivera, a 26-year-old Pierrefonds-Roxboro woman killed by a drunk driver in 2017.

It’s hard to see someone’s tears in the rain, but the parents of Jessica Sarli-Rivera were overcome with emotion Wednesday at a ceremony to commemorate their daughter who was killed four years ago in a car accident that involved alcohol and speeding.

On Wednesday, a memorial bench at Jacynthe Fyfe Park in Roxboro was unveiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to honour Sarli-Rivera and others victims of impaired driving.

“I don’t want my daughter to be forgotten,” said Rivera, choking back tears. “I really want to keep her memory as long as I’m alive.”

She described her daughter, the eldest of her three children, as joyful and caring.

”She had finished her business studies at McGill and was doing her CPA (in accounting). She was still at home…we enjoyed her so much.”

Rivera said the impaired driver, who was a friend of Jessica’s, was later convicted but served less than half of his 42-month sentence. She said there is still much work to do to curb impaired driving.

“For sure, it’s always hard because the message is not passing. People still think nothing is going to happen to them. So I tell them: On March 20, 2017, a bad decision was taken, a decision that shattered our family … We’re a big family of 20 people but now Jessica is missing everything. Weddings, Christmas, birthdays.”

Jessica’s brother, Charles-Antoine, was devastated by his older sister’s death.

“I was 17, graduating high school. It happened at a tough moment in my life. But It taught me a lot. It taught to be responsible,” said Charles-Antoine, now 22 and hoping to become a policeman.

“My sister was a role model, a straight ‘A’ student. She was the sun on a stormy day. She’d be there for you and make you feel important.

“Losing her was really, really hard. We were extremely lucky to have MADD, and (the support of) family and friends, to help us.”

Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Jim Beis said Jessica’s death shocked the community of Roxboro. He hopes the memorial bench will cause people to reflect on the violence

“It’s a sombre moment but also a moment of reflection. Here is a perfect example of someone whose life was cut short who had her future ahead of her. Awful, just tragic.”

Guillaume Théberge, Commander of Police Station 3, also attended the ceremony with fellow officers. He said Montreal police continue to drive home the message that alcohol and/or drugs and driving don’t mix.

“We have to keep on telling people to plan their nights out and have someone (sober) ready to take the wheel. At the SPVM, one of our priorities is to be present and make sure people respect the limits for alcohol, and also drugs now.”

Theresa-Anne Kramer, spokesperson for Montreal’s MADD chapter, said recent stats show that there are more fatalities from drug-impaired driving than from alcohol. “They think nothing about getting in a car with someone who’s been smoking,” she said.

Kramer shed a tear as she looked at a MADD commemorative wall poster featuring the faces of hundreds of victims of impaired driving over the decades.

“It’s very hard for me. Their stories stay in my mind.”

Antoine Bittar and Elizabeth Rivera watch their son Charles-Antoine place a rose on the commemorative bench that was unveiled in honour of their daughter Jessica Sarli-Rivera at Jacynthe Fyfe Park on Wednesday.
Antoine Bittar and Elizabeth Rivera watch their son Charles-Antoine place a rose on the commemorative bench that was unveiled in honour of their daughter Jessica Sarli-Rivera at Jacynthe Fyfe Park on Wednesday. PHOTO BY JOHN MAHONEY /Montreal Gazette

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