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Still Jammin' 4 Jay

Surrey firefighter Greg Drew holds a photo of his son, Jay who died, after the Grade 12 Walnut Grove student lost control of his speeding Eagle Talon and wrapped it around a tree on May 11, 2003. Losing Jay set Drew on a crusade to save other students from the same fate by speaking frankly to them about his son’s death. - Monique TAMMINGA/Langley Times
Surrey firefighter Greg Drew holds a photo of his son, Jay who died, after the Grade 12 Walnut Grove student lost control of his speeding Eagle Talon and wrapped it around a tree on May 11, 2003. Losing Jay set Drew on a crusade to save other students from the same fate by speaking frankly to them about his son’s death.
— image credit: Monique TAMMINGA/Langley Times

With tears streaming down his face, and his voice welling up in pain, Greg Drew re-tells the story of arriving at the crash scene where his 17-year-old son Jay sat trapped, battered and broken inside his crushed sports car. Jay’s six-foot, five-inch inch frame compressed — his femur bone was shoved up beside his ear.

“It’s been 10 years, but it was like it was yesterday,” said Drew, sitting on the deck of his Allard Crescent acreage. That’s where he will host his all-day Jammin’ 4 Jay concert on Aug. 25.

The multi-band concert, featuring Tom Lavin and the Legendary Powder Blues, will mark 10 years since Drew’s son Jay, a Walnut Grove Secondary student, sped down 80 Avenue, losing control on a corner and slamming his Eagle Talon into a tree at a high rate of speed.

“With seven large bones broken, and his front end of his car compressed into him, he used his good hand to phone his mom to apologize,” said Drew, his voice breaking, while holding a framed picture of Jay in his grad gown.

Drew never got to see his youngest son graduate with the rest of his friends at WGSS.

Drew, as a veteran Surrey firefighter, had seen his share of graphic and tragic crashes involving teens.

“I was 23 years on the job. I had seen it all, but when it’s your own son lying there . . .” Drew starts to cry, not able to finish his sentence.

Drew had heard about the crash over the scanner and worried it might be Jay, so he rushed to the scene.

“Jay had Superman syndrome. He had been in three crashes before this one,” said Drew.

In fact, Drew, seeing the carnage of many teenagers and their sports cars, worried about Jay driving a high-powered car.

Working one night, six weeks before Jay died, Drew brought his two sons down to a graphic scene involving an Eagle Talon wrapped around a telephone pole in Surrey. The outcome in that crash wasn’t good either.

While the impact of seeing that crash made a difference with his older son, it clearly didn’t change Jay’s view of driving dangerously. Jay’s favourite movie was the “Fast and the Furious.”

Drew said when he arrived at the scene, his son knew he had been badly injured.

“He was conscious the whole time. He didn’t say boo because he knew he screwed up big time,” said Drew.

It took more than an hour for Langley firefighters to tear away Jay’s car, that had wrapped around him.

His size 15 shoes are still etched into the metal underneath the pedals of his mangled car.

The shoelaces have been taken out, said Drew, a request made by Jay’s young cousin. She now wears the shoelace around her neck with her home key attached, to remember him by.

Jay was rushed to hospital with severe injuries and swelling in the brain. He died of his injuries not long after.

“It’s the most hopeless feeling in the world, holding your son’s hand and watching him take his last breath.”

Drew found himself living a parent’s worst nightmare.

He was inconsolable.

“I could have sat at the bar fridge and drowned my sorrow or killed the pain with a bottle of pills.

“Instead I decided to tell Jay’s story in hopes I could stop at least one kid from making the same mistakes Jay did.”

“I called up [Langley MP] Mark Warawa — who at the time was an ICBC Langley manager, and said ‘don’t crush my kid’s car.”

Warawa honoured his request and had the car towed out to Drew’s property. The mangled metal that once was Jay’s car sat collecting dust for a few months while Drew languished in his grief.

Then Drew decided he was going to take Jay’s car and his son’s cautionary tale to high schools around B.C. in hopes his emotional, in-your-face, message could save at least one teen from the same fate.

“The first high school I spoke at was in the Kootenays, towing Jay’s car with my old, rusty truck,” said Drew.

His message is raw and from the heart, often with Drew crying in front of the teens. But it’s that raw and often shocking testimonial — which includes Jay’s ashes — that sink in with the kids.

“I tell the kids, ‘you think your actions don’t impact others, but there is a tidal wave of destruction.’

“From that first time when I spoke in the Kootenays, I received 50 emails from kids, some bawling their eyes out, and it hit me — I was getting through and that means the whole world to me,” said Drew.

That was more than five years ago.  Since then, Drew has spoken to thousands of teens, including some in Langley this year, drilling his hard-hitting message home. He has received emails and letters from several students who attend Jay’s former school, saying his words changed them.

The teens he speaks to often are bawling alongside Drew as he tells them to go home and hug their parents, because all he can do now is look at photographs of Jay.

“When I look out at a gym full of students and half the kids are crying, then I think maybe I touched them emotionally and maybe they won’t speed that time, or get drunk behind the wheel,” said Drew.

He has had teachers come to him and say they had been trying to reach a troubled teen and Drew’s message is what got through.

“I had one kid come up to me after and say ‘you changed me. I have been a real shithead to my parents and I can’t wait to get home and introduce my parents to their son again.’”

Each student is given a decal they are asked to put up on their vehicle’s visor. On it is a picture of Jay and the acronym RATT, which stands for Responsible Adult Thinking Teenager.

“It turns out Jay was a street racer. If someone would have RATTed him out, call me and tell me, it could have made the difference,” Drew said.

Talking to teenagers has been really therapeutic for him.

“It’s good for me to know my kid didn’t die in vain, he is making a difference.”

For the first time, because of fundraisers like Jammin’ 4 Jay, Drew was able to leave a scholarship at WGSS in Jay’s name. He hopes to build on that and add more.

This year’s concert proceeds will go to paying for a new truck and trailer that can haul Jay’s wrecked car to high schools around the province. At Jammin 4 Jay, his vehicle will be once again be out on display.

Drew said there is nothing he would love more than to sell out the concert. There are 450 tickets available. His new wife Carla has been the backbone to organizing what should be an amazing event, he said.

A bunch of local bands are playing too, including In Harm’s Way, Pie, which is a band from Walnut Grove, Kronik, The Sneaks and more. Beach volleyball will also be going on, along with food and other fun, and maybe some surprises, too.

Pre-day tickets are $50 and $60 at the gate. Tickets can be bought at www.jammin4jay.com. The concert goes from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 9978 Allard Crescent in Fort Langley. Those in attendance must be 19 and over.

More information is available at jammin4jay.com.

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