Lenny Klatt was a hard-working man who left school at 14 to build a life for himself. At 86, he was a father and a grandfather, well-liked in the small community of Grand Marais, where he'd lived his whole life and where everyone knew his name.
On Monday, his long life came to a tragic end when he was hit and killed by a suspected drunk driver.
"He liked to joke around, he liked to visit people," his son, Dwight Klatt, told the Free Press Wednesday. "He always liked to be around people. He always had lots of friends that were in the area; they would come and visit him and he would visit them … he was never alone."
Lenny Klatt was driving south on Highway 59 at 12:50 a.m. Monday when he collided with a northbound vehicle near Fey Road in the rural municipality of Alexander. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver, a 58-year-old woman from the RM of Alexander, was arrested for impaired driving causing death before being taken to hospital. She and a 65-year-old passenger were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. She will appear in court in Selkirk on Nov. 5.
Dwight, 64, is the oldest of six children and has spent the last two days contacting family and friends to let them know his father is gone, not because of poor health — he remembers his father as being spry for his age — but from a completely avoidable incident that was the result of a choice.
In the moments in between, he finds himself wondering how it could have been prevented.
"What does it take for people not to drink and drive? What does it take, what will it take, before people understand that your impairment is (worse) after having a few drinks?" he said.
In the span of just days, police have made several arrests with the charges of impaired driving in Manitoba.
"What does it take for people not to drink and drive? What does it take, what will it take, before people understand that your impairment is (worse) after having a few drinks?” — Dwight Klatt, son of Lenny Klatt who was hit and killed by a suspected drunk driver
A 36-year-old man is facing charges related to drunk driving after he hit two children who were walking with their father in Thompson Saturday evening. Police said Jaden Kenneth Pittman’s blood-alcohol reading was three times the legal limit when he drove onto the sidewalk and struck the girls, 2 and 4, before attempting to flee on foot. He remains in custody.
The next morning, police arrested a 35-year-old woman for driving the wrong way down the Perimeter Highway. Police said her blood-alcohol reading was twice the legal limit; she faces several charges related to impaired driving.
Sgt. Stéphane Fontaine, the impaired driving countermeasures co-ordinator for the Winnipeg Police Service, said while impaired driving numbers have remained relatively consistent in recent months, police are expecting a spike in cases as people begin to gather again and licensed premises reopen.
"During the height of the pandemic, when bars (and) restaurants were all shut down, and overall traffic within the City of Winnipeg had significantly decreased, we certainly noticed a drop in impaired-driving incidents. However, at the same time, we noted more impaired driving incidents are happening during daytime hours," Fontaine said in an email.
“During the height of the pandemic, when bars (and) restaurants were all shut down, and overall traffic within the City of Winnipeg had significantly decreased, we certainly noticed a drop in impaired-driving incidents. However, at the same time, we noted more impaired driving incidents are happening during daytime hours." — Sgt. Stéphane Fontaine, impaired driving countermeasures co-ordinator for the Winnipeg Police Service
From 2019 to 2020, police saw an 18.9 per cent overall drop in charges of impaired driving at the 0.08 blood-alcohol limit or over, and a 7.7 per cent increase in drug-related impaired-driving crimes.
Fontaine said police will be increasing their enforcement efforts against impaired driving as restrictions continue to loosen.
Trevor Ens, president of the Winnipeg chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said the organization will sometimes see an outpouring of support when clusters of similar incidents occur, which can often lead to people affected by drunk driving learning about MADD and reaching out.
"Once that first contact is made, then it's great; it's a lot easier for us to deal with people and speak with people, even if it's just one family," he said. "And then they can share the resources that we provide, and they can tell their people."
The pandemic has brought new faces to MADD on both ends — while there have been more people volunteering their time to the organization, there have also been more victims and survivors reaching out for support.
"Those are the people that really want to (meet) in person, because the online (support) was always available… And we've had to try and contact them individually and check in on people," he said.
Ens said the province has done good work in reducing drunk-driving incidents in recent years, including implementing immediate roadside prohibition for some impaired drivers, but MADD is campaigning for more to be done, including reducing the legal blood-alcohol limit.
For his part, Dwight said in the time since losing his father, he has decided he has a responsibility to forgive — he’s a Christian, and said he worries for the woman charged, too.
"I’m in a forgiving space, because I can say God forgave me, so I have to forgive people," he said.
"I’m not the one to judge them… if I ever saw the lady, I would say, ‘I forgive you. I’m sorry that it happened.'"
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.