Many community members are used to seeing James Day – renowned for his Haunted Woods – driving around town in his beloved hearse, a vision of quirky neon lights and blaring music that he’s spent time and effort installing in his vehicle.
But the community will have to get used to seeing that hearse in a new place after the car was hit by an impaired driver last Friday night. Day now plans to display the totalled vehicle on his property as a reminder to the community of the dangers of drunk driving.
“I’m crushed. I’m really crushed. This is something I’ve always wanted my whole life. I was just very proud of it, you know?” Day told The Eastern Door. “The biggest thing for me is the drinking and driving. This is such a generational curse that has to break now. I’m going to use this as a reminder to people that this could have been somebody’s life. Someone could have been killed.”
Last Saturday morning, Day woke up to a few missed calls from a friend. Assuming it was a misdial, he didn’t check his messages. He wasn’t aware anything was wrong until he heard a loud banging on his door around 9 a.m. and opened his door to a woman who told him that she had hit his hearse last night.
It was at that point that Day checked his phone and found frantic messages from his friend. Day knew it was bad from his friend’s voice on the other end of the phone: “I’m so, so sorry, man.”
When Day went to assess the damage on his vehicle, he found an empty spot where it used to be. It had been taken away at 12:30 a.m. as evidence for one of three separate impaired driving files that were opened that night.
Peacekeepers spokesperson Kyle Zachary explained that cases of impaired driving are frequent in Kahnawake.
“Each impaired call typically takes approximately an hour and a half or longer with investigation, arrest, towing and impound, transport, breath analysis, and release, if appropriate,” said Zachary.
He said that since January of this year, 40 impaired driving files have been initiated by the Peacekeepers. He had also posted a “Just the Facts” informational video about impaired driving to the Peacekeepers’ YouTube channel last Friday, just hours before Day’s hearse was struck that night.
Picking up his hearse from the Peacekeepers’ impound made Day realize the gravity of the situation.
“It’s a nightmare. I’m still thinking, this just can’t be real. The whole front end is pushed in, the frame’s bent, it’s all gone. That’s my car. It’s beyond repair,” he said. “Then I saw the woman’s car. It was two cars away from mine, and the airbags were deployed, and I just thought, ‘wow, she’s lucky to be alive.’ I mean, her car was buried inside of my hearse.”
It’s been important to Day to keep the identity of who hit his car private for the sake of her family and future, and to ensure the community understands that the issue of impaired driving is community-wide, rather than an isolated case that faults any one individual.
To help address the issue of impaired driving in Kahnawake, Day plans to make use of his totalled hearse by making a display, to warn folks about the dangers of driving while intoxicated.
“We’re going to make a monumental reminder of what drinking and driving could do in this town. I’m going to drag it up to my woods, on my terms. I want it to rot on my terms, in my graveyard. I’m going to put a smoke machine in there and skeletons on the ground and bottles,” he said. “I want people to know this is what happens when you drink and drive. This could be you. It’ll be a funeral scene as a reminder of how vicious this cycle is in Kahnawake.”
Day’s sister, Megan Day, believes that the problem has become out of control in Kahnawake. She noted that even though bartenders can try to stop clientele from driving home after drinking, it’s often not enough.
“It’s too easy to just ‘step out for a smoke’ and drive off,” she said. “I wish people would stop and think about it. It’s so easy to say, ‘Here, take my keys, I’ll get the car in the morning.’ Call a taxi, call a family member to pick you up.… Automobiles can be replaced, a life cannot.”
James said he is still shaken by how much worse the situation could have turned out had a person been struck, and is particularly saddened since he was hoping to use it in Kahnawake’s upcoming Pride parade.
“My buddy who called saw it happen. I was in shock. I can replace a vehicle, but I said to him, ‘You can’t be replaced,’ and, you know, he has a family to care for,” James said. “It could have been anyone. It’s just so scary that we have to deal with these things in such a small community. We’re supposed to be proud to come from here.”
Since the crash, Day’s girlfriend Nadine Diabo has set up a GoFundMe to raise money for a new hearse. The effort already has $650 in donations.
“Please be aware of what drinking and driving can do,” James pleaded. “I’m shattered. I only hope now that people will learn from this.”