The heartbroken family of a young man from South Tyneside - killed by a driver who had been drinking and taking drugs - have backed a campaign to keep the roads safe during this summer’s World Cup.
Lewis Knapp, 20, died on Good Friday last year after being run over by Connor Emms, who had been drinking and taking cocaine.
Emms, 21, of Sycamore Avenue, South Shields, did not have a driving licence and was driving at more than twice the 30mph speed limit when he hit Lewis. Emms did not stop and Lewis died at the scene from multiple injuries.
He later pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, drug driving, failing to stop after an accident, having no insurance and driving otherwise in accordance with a licence.
He was jailed for four-and-a-half years and disqualified from driving for three.
Now his mum Michelle Norton and girlfriend Caitlyn Kelly are backing Road Safety GB North East (RSGBNE) in urging people to leave their car keys at home before going out drinking during the World Cup, which kicks off in Russia next week.
It’s easy to think you will just have one drink, but then before you know it, it has become two or three. Don’t drink at all if you’re driving.Michelle Norton
The move comes as new figures show drink and drugs were involved in 80 injury road accidents in South Tyneside - including four fatalities - between the end of 2013 and start of this year.
The campaign kicks off at South Tyneside College in South Shields today, where Caitlyn will be talking to students about the dangers of drink/drug driving.
Michelle, of Boldon Colliery, said: “We cannot bring Lewis back but, if we can help prevent the same thing happening to someone else, we will do anything we can to show how drink and drug driving wrecks lives.
“We know more people will be drinking and going out having a good time during the football, but they must think about the consequences of driving under the influence.
“People should avoid having even one drink. They may feel OK, but they are not. Don’t drink at all if you’re driving.”
Michelle said her sheet metal worker son was her life and now her only mechanism for coping with his loss is to stay exceptionally busy.
She said: “From the moment I was told Lewis had died, I felt like I was living in a bubble, and I’m still in that bubble today.
“The pain doesn’t get any less, but I have learned to take one day at a time. I get a lot of comfort from going to the memorial garden that his friends have set up for Lewis. There is a huge hole in my life that will never be filled, and that is what people should think about before they decide to drink and drive.”
Caitlyn, 20, from South Shields, said: “We are supporting this campaign because we want people to think about what they are doing and the impact they could have on so many people.
“Connor Emms did not go out that night with the intention of killing someone. But because he decided to drive when he shouldn’t have, he took Lewis’ life and ruined so many others. People should think twice before they get behind the wheel.”
Between 2013 and 2017, 40 people were killed on the region’s roads due to a suspected drink/drug driver, 320 were seriously injured, and a further 1,544 were slightly injured.
During the Euro 2016 football fixtures, there was an increase in drink and drug driving injuries on the day of, and the day following, all of England’s football fixtures, with incidents rising from 8% of total collisions to 19%.
While drink and drug drive casualties have fallen by 7% over the five years from 369 in 2013 to 345 in 2017, the number of people killed or seriously injured has increased sharply by 40%, from 58 in 2013 to 81 in 2017.
RSGB NE Chairman Paul Watson said: “What happened to Lewis is heartbreaking. The decision by Emms that night to drive took just a split second, yet the consequences of it will go on for a lifetime. We thank Michelle and Caitlyn for helping us raise awareness.
“We are not trying to dampen the fun and spirits of the World Cup. We want people to go out and have a great time, and hopefully England will do us proud.
“However, we do want people to plan ahead. Either be the designated driver and stay on soft drinks or arrange a lift from a friend, book a taxi or use public transport. Do not drive under the influence; the impact can be devastating.”
Chief Inspector Dave Guthrie, of Northumbria Police, said: “The message of this campaign is very clear – if you are having a drink then don’t drive.
“Alcohol impairs your ability to drive and if you get behind the wheel of a car when you are drunk then it could lead to a serious collision. This kind of incident can tear families apart and people need to be aware of the potential consequences of driving over the limit.”