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Barrie widow shares heartbreaking loss at launch of Festive R.I.D.E. campaign to curb impaired driving

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Justine Ellis' life was drastically changed six years ago when an impaired driver slammed head-on into the vehicle her 28-year-old husband, Stuart Ellis, was driving while on his way to work at 5:45 on a Monday morning, killing him instantly.

At the time, Ellis had a 14-month-old and was six weeks pregnant with their second child.

"My youngest son never got to meet his dad, and I went through a whole entire pregnancy on my own and had two under two by myself. At 28 years old, becoming a widow with two little kids is definitely an experience I don't wish on anybody else."

In a collective effort to prevent further tragedies for families, Ontario Provincial Police, York Regional Police, and various law enforcement partners across the province teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on Thursday to kick off the annual Festive R.I.D.E. campaign.

"Drinking and driving, as well as driving while impaired by drug is continuous in our society," said OPP Highway Safety Division Chief Superintendent Andre Phelps.

According to OPP, officers have had to notify 42 families already this year that one of their loved ones had been killed in an impaired driving incident.

Former MADD York Region president Kathy Mitchell understands that grief all too well. Her 23-year-old niece was killed by a drunk driver in 2011.

"It was devastating. It was a shocking, tragic experience. It's something that has never left our family still today," she said.

Advocates and police echoed the same message that there is always another option to getting behind the wheel when drinking or consuming drugs.

"If they're going to be doing cannabis, for instance, and driving, you need to be able to have an alternative route. Take a taxi, there's rideshare, there's Uber, there's Lyft. Call a family member or friend to get you home safe," said Parents Against Driving High president Vendia Carvery.

They also encourage the public to call 911 about a suspected impaired driver.

The Festive RIDE campaign will run until January 1.

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