When he was serving time in jail 12 years ago, Derick Hudson knew one day he wanted to go to schools to talk to students about a horrible and tragic decision he had made.
But back then, and even as the years passed, he wasn’t sure that he would have the courage to do so.
However, he’s driven by the memory of two wonderful young men – one, his best friend; the other, a teenager he never knew but wishes he had.
And so, as he stood inside the gymnasium at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School in front of hundreds of students, he told them about the decisions and mistakes he had made that had the most heartbreaking of outcomes – the death of two young men as a result of drinking and driving.
He urged the students to never follow in these footsteps. And it is a message he has taken to students at other schools as well.
The first time Derick Hudson drank alcohol he was 14 years old. It was also the first time he got drunk. Growing up, that was the scene. Partying. Drinking.
When he turned 16, old enough to drive, Hudson told himself he would never drink and drive. Not just because his parents had told him not to, but because it wasn’t the right thing to do. And he didn’t when he had his licence.
At least not right away.
But then one day a bunch of people were at a party at a friend’s house. When the parents who lived in the house came home and kicked everyone out, Hudson drove off with his best friend, even though he had been drinking. It seemed the better option than having to tell his parents he hadn’t been truthful about where he had been. He drove a few minutes up the road to a wooded area where he and his friend slept.
That was the first time Hudson drank and drove. And since nothing bad had happened, he didn’t appreciate the need not to do it again.
“People thought I was kind of cool doing that stuff. I’m here to tell you that it’s just not,” Hudson – himself once a Yarmouth high student – told the students and staff.
“There were some occasions where I almost got caught. I actually ran from a roadblock and got away. And I bragged about it. There was another time I actually got hauled over and I passed the breathalyzer and I bragged about it,” he said. “Those are instances where I should have been stopped in my tracks. I should have never been able to continue doing what I was doing. Those were signs that I should stop. I didn’t hear it.”
In June 2004 Hudson and his friends were getting ready to graduate from high school. They went to prom and they didn’t drink and drive that night.
But then another weekend rolled around. He and some friends were at his camp. People were drinking. Later on, when he and his best friend Tyler Fitzgerald were there by themselves, they decided to leave to meet up with another friend. On the drive they saw a young couple walking on the side of the road. They stopped to see if they wanted to party. The girl refused to get into the vehicle, but her friend decided to take the ride he was offered.
Hudson didn’t know the 17-year-old teenager whose name was Jared Roberts and who was now sitting in his back seat. And he never got the chance to get to know him because very soon afterwards the vehicle, travelling way too fast, was found crumpled off the road, near a broken telephone poll and downed power lines. The only person still in the vehicle when the first passerby happened on the scene was Jared Roberts. He was wearing his seatbelt, but he was deceased.
Hudson and Fitzgerald were both found badly injured on the ground outside.
The pair, who had been inseparable growing up – they had been best friends since elementary school – were taken to the Yarmouth hospital. Hudson was airlifted to Halifax, but Tyler, 18, died at the Yarmouth hospital.
When Hudson woke up in a Halifax hospital many days later, following surgery and after being in a coma, the first thing he asked his dad was, “Where am I?”
His second question was, “Where’s Tyler?” He’s gone, his father told him. All Hudson could do was lay there, stunned.
Sometime later his dad asked Hudson if he knew a young man by the name of Jared Roberts. He didn’t, he answered.
He’s gone too, his father told him.
It was almost incomprehensible for the news Hudson was given to sink in. Both teenagers had died. How was this even possible?
In October 2004 Hudson was charged with dangerous driving causing death, impaired driving causing death and criminal negligence causing death. During drawn-out court proceedings he eventually pleaded guilty in February 2007 to impaired driving causing death, knowing he needed to take responsibility for what had happened – for the lives that had been taken and the incredible hurt, pain and sadness for their families and friends that drinking and driving had led to.
When he was sentenced the court was told that blood tests, at the time of the collision, revealed his blood alcohol content to be between 0.190 and 0.218; the legal limit is 0.08. His sentence included a 15-month jail sentence, three years of probation, 100 hours of community service and the loss of his driver's licence for five years. Hudson expressed his remorse and through his lawyer said he would spend the rest of his life working to keep the memory of the victims alive and educate people on the dangers of drinking and driving.
When he was led away from the courtroom after being sentenced it was the first time Hudson had ever been in handcuffs. He was never a kid who had been in trouble growing up. He had been in army cadets, Cubs, Scouts. He had done well in school. He didn’t see himself as a ‘criminal,’ but instead as someone who had made a terrible, devastating decision to drink and drive. And for that he needed to be punished.
He told the students about the jail experience. About being strip-searched. About being locked in a room with four concrete walls and a steel bed. About visits with his family that could only last 20 minutes with them on one side of a glass window and him on the other side. About the 24-hour lockdowns.
When he eventually got paroled he told them about the roommate he had in the halfway house.
“He did 25 years in a Louisiana State penitentiary for second-degree murder,” Hudson said. “The stories that man told me would send shivers down your spine.”
And he’d tell him these stories before bedtime.
SPREADING THE MESSAGE
When Hudson came back to Yarmouth, it was time to start over. But how do you start over knowing you are to blame for the death of two people and for the hurt caused to so many?
“I have to live with that every day,” he said. His life may have gone on at the time, but it was never the same. He even moved out west as an escape for eight years. There, no one knew his story. No one knew his shame.
But home pulled him back.
He has a family. He has a good life. But it’s not enough. He wants and needs to talk to young people. He hopes that they’ll listen.
He wants to protect lives. He wants people to never drink and drive. And he never wants people to get into a vehicle with someone who has been drinking.
“I visited Tyler’s grave just before I came here. That’s where I go to see my best friend,” he told the students.
If you’re going to be drinking, plan ahead so you have a safe ride, he told them. Or don’t drink at all, he said. You don’t need alcohol to have a good time.
When Hudson was out west, hiding from this part of his life, he said by not talking about this to others he wasn’t honouring Tyler and Jared.
“So I came home and I changed my life. This is what I want to do now. I am so thankful that I was able to come here and talk to you guys,” he told the students. “I’m honoured to be here.”
And he thanked the students for being there too. Because when he was in high school he was that kid that skipped out on the assembly about drinking and driving.
That was a mistake too.
He should have stayed, he said.
“I didn’t want to hear it because I thought I knew best,” he said. “Guess what, I didn’t.”