It was around 11:30 at night when Cst. Manuel Borges of the Selkirk RCMP heard the crackle of his radio come alive while he was out on patrol. There was a report of an erratic driver near Lockport. Cst. Borges was close by, so he picked up his pace and headed toward the location. As he drove down Highway 9, he saw a pickup had left the road, went over a ditch and into a yard. The rear window was blown out. The vehicle had also taken out the stop sign. He figured this must be the erratic driver, but either way, he knew he had to help. Cst. Borges activated his lights, pulled over, and got out to see what was going on. He would be forever changed by what happened next.
Ben Harris and his good friend were standing with their bikes on the grass beside the road and under the streetlight at Donald Road and Highway. They were waiting to cross the road to go home to Ben’s house. It was a warm summer night, and they were on summer holidays, hanging out and having fun. Ben loved playing electric guitar and considered being an engineering technician or a police officer when he graduated, but above all was his passion for music. He wanted to be a musician. He was always laughing and teasing his sisters, Stephanie and Hannah. What happened in only a split second that night took all that away and destroyed the Harris family.
In the darkness, Cst. Borges heard a faint voice coming from the south. He followed the noise and found a teenage boy laying in the east ditch talking on his cell phone with 911. The boy said he had a friend with him. Cst. Borges ran along the ditch looking for the other boy. At the corner, he saw a severely damaged white mountain bike. He then saw Ben, who was laying in the ditch near his bike. Unresponsive. Ben did not survive being hit by the pickup. Fifteen-year-old Ben Harris died in that ditch on Highway 9.
“I saw him. I processed that. It knocked the wind right out of me,” said Cst. Borges. “There were no signs of life. There was nothing I could do for him. As a police officer, I know there are now steps I need to take to find out what happened and apprehend the person responsible. In that moment, though, for a split second, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop to grieve what happened to this boy. I had to move. I had to do my job.”
Immediately, Cst. Borges jumped into action. Based on initial scene observations and witnesses, he was confident the driver of the pickup that had struck Benjamin and his friend was still in the immediate area. Police training kicked in, and Cst. Borges called for more resources to the area to set up containment, making sure the suspect couldn’t leave the area. RCMP Police Dog Services was called in, and Eddie the police dog, along with his handler, Sgt. Kent MacInnis, arrived. Cst. Borges joined them in tracking the suspect. Eddie tracked the suspect and found him hiding in a van, approximately half a kilometre away from the scene. When he was arrested, the suspect had drug paraphernalia on him and his behaviour strongly indicated he was impaired by drugs.
“After the suspect was in custody and I was back in my vehicle writing my notes, I looked around and I cried. I thought about the devastation the family would be feeling and how Ben had so so much more ahead of him. I thought to myself, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ None of it made any sense. Ben didn’t have to die. The only thing that helped me in that moment was knowing I wasn’t alone. Other police officers, fire, EMS, and citizens in the area all came together that night.”
Justin Little, who was 29 at the time, and in town from Calgary, was charged with Ben’s death. It had been determined Little was impaired by methamphetamine and driving a stolen vehicle when he struck the boys, killing Ben and then fleeing. Little pleaded guilty to several charges, including Impaired Driving Causing Death and Impaired Driving Causing Bodily Harm. He was handed a sentence of six years in custody.
“This wasn’t an accident,” said Ben’s Dad John Harris. “Stealing a car, driving impaired, fleeing the scene, and killing Ben were choices. Our family was destroyed that day.”
“That horrible day has not ended for us,” added Ben’s Mom Brenda. “We re-live that day everyday. Every day is another day without Ben coming home. We are still waiting.”
Ben’s sister Hannah echoed those feelings. “We are all very close as siblings; Ben was my go-to person. You don’t expect your little brother to be gone. I can’t describe how this has changed everything for me. Even good things feel bad.”
“When we found out that 2020 has seen such a high number of fatalities on the road, we were shocked,” said John. “I understand that people drink and get high, but don’t drive at the same time. Can you do that to save a life? The life of an innocent person? Would you do it if you knew the person? It’s hard for us to speak about what happened, but we hope that people will read about Ben and will take this to heart, and make a commitment to not drive impaired.”
This year on Manitoba roadways, 94 people have died. One of the leading causes of death on our roadways is impaired driving. Think of Ben Harris. Think of his Mom and his Dad. Think of his sisters, his family, and his friends. Maybe putting a face to the person you could hurt will stop you from making the decision to drive impaired or to engage in risky driving behaviours, such as speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, and driving distracted.
Keep focused. Slow down. Buckle up. Drive sober. Let’s get everyone home safely.