Joining forces to prevent deaths due to distracted driving
On August 22, 2018, Sandra LaRose lost her 17-year-old daughter, Kailynn Bursic-Panchuk, in a tragic railway crossing incident. Kailynn died after the car she was driving was struck by a train in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. She had been using her phone’s GPS to navigate and didn’t see or hear the train coming.
Since that tragic day, Sandra has made it her mission to share the story of Kailynn’s death—and of her family’s pain—in the hopes of saving other young lives.
Since 2020, she’s been talking to organizations, community groups, and schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan about the devastating consequences that distracted driving can have—especially near railway tracks and trains. Now, she’s partnering with Operation Lifesaver (OL) Canada to bring that message to even more Canadians.
Sandra is starting a new role as OL Canada’s Youth Rail-Safe Driving Consultant. She spoke to OL about the new partnership, and what she hopes to achieve. Here’s part of that conversation.
What age group are you going to target through your outreach?
I really want to focus on teenagers in grades 10, 11, and 12, because that's the age that Kailynn was when she died. It’s easy for me to relay the message to teens because they see themselves in her story.
What do you think it is about Kailynn’s story that will resonate with young people across Canada?
I think Kailynn herself is relatable. I think students see themselves in her. I think for a lot of them, it’s like looking in a mirror. She was good in school, she had a job, she had friends, she had goals—she had everything that most students across Canada have in their lives. She wanted to graduate. She wanted to fall in love, and get married, and have kids. She wanted the things that we all think of, and dream of, and wish for.
How do young people react when you give your presentation in schools?
I've had students come up to me and say “I could never do this to my mom.” They see what I'm missing—and what I wanted for Kailynn—and what’s not going to happen now. I'm blunt; I tell them what she missed out on, and what she got instead. I hope it's having an impact. I'll never know. But I like to think that if a student has heard me speak, maybe I might play a little part in the fact that they get to graduate from high school and walk across the stage to get their diploma; that they attend their university convocation; that they get to walk down the aisle to get married; and that they get to take that trip to the hospital to have a baby. Maybe Kailynn and I have had a part in that.
What does OL’s support mean for your potential impact?
Having OL backing me is going to allow me to cross boundaries that I didn't think I'd ever be able to cross. To have a national organization supporting me, it's priceless, really. Their reach, their campaigns, their messaging, their social media presence—it’s all going to help me gain new contacts and reach more students. My goal is for every student in Canada to hear my message. And then to have every student go home and share my message with their parents—and call their parents out if they pick up their phone while driving a car. My goal is to stop distracted driving—to ensure everybody has a chance at living a full life.
How do you think Kailynn would have reacted to what you’re doing?
I think she'd be proud. I hope she'd be proud. That's all I've ever wanted—to make her proud.
If you want to find out more about Sandra LaRose’s presentation, or to book her to speak, check out her website at www.sandralarose.ca or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Facebook, and Instagram, and find her #STOPTrackTragedies video on our website.