The driver involved with the collision that took a local businessman’s life was sentenced to two years less a day in a provincial correctional facility Wednesday morning at Prince Albert provincial court.
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Tanner Hallett Courtney, 22, is also prohibited from operating a motor vehicle for three years and was assessed a victim surcharge of $100 that is to be paid within 30 days of his release.
In October, Courtney pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death in relation to the vehicle collision that took Ben Darchuk’s life. Friends and members of both families packed the courtroom on Wednesday.
While reading information from his written decision, Judge Morris Baniak cited mitigating factors such as Courtney’s guilty plea and demonstration of remorse, observance of conditions since the accident, standing in the community and lack of a criminal record, as well as the examination of existing case law as reasons for the sentencing.
“In crafting this sentence, I am assisted by decisions from all levels of courts in this province,” he said.
During the plea hearing in October, crown prosecutor Bruce Bauer had argued that Courtney spend two- to two-and-a-half years in a federal penitentiary. He noted that the act was careless since it took place on a long and inevitably busy weekend and that drugs and alcohol were found in Courtney’s system.
On Wednesday, however, Baniak referred to the case law that had been alluded to during the plea hearing.
Of note, he said the present case was “clearly distinguishable” to that of Rita Galloway’s, a woman who was also charged with impaired driving causing death and was handed a 30-month sentence in 2002.
Baniak noted that Galloway had pleaded “not guilty” and reiterated the mitigating factors of the present case.
“As I have tried to point out, courts at every level have repeatedly held that it is important to avoid disparity in sentencing,” he said. “It is important that the sentence is proportionate to the gravity of the offence, having regard to the mitigating and aggravating circumstances.”
Baniak said the offence needed to be denounced to show that impaired driving would not be tolerated.
“Mr. Courtney … will have to spend a part of his life in jail,” he said. “This fact alone will not bring back Mr. Darchuk, and it may not satisfy or console his family. But it is, under the circumstances, the end result of a tragic event.”
As an aside to the prison sentence, Baniak declined to impose a restitution order as requested by the crown. Leanne, Whitney and Julie Darchuk had collectively applied for thousands of dollars in restitution.
In determining whether a restitution order was appropriate, Baniak said he had to consider whether the amount was readily discernible, whether the offender’s ability to pay was a factor and whether a restitution order should be a factor in determining the totality of a custodial sentence.
He said the damage or loss would be difficult to quantify in the case. While conjecture on his part, Baniak said, Courtney’s asset base is “probably modest,” based on his age and present circumstances. Thirdly, he noted that a restitution order was not appropriate due to the length of the sentence.
“It is important to note that the sentence imposed on Mr. Courtney is, I believe, in the range of sentences imposed for similar offences by other courts in this province,” he said. “None of the sentences I made reference to considered or imposed restitution orders.”
Defence attorney Mark Brayford felt the sentencing was appropriate, noting that Baniak did an admirable job of explaining why and how sentencing decision are made in the Canadian justice system.
“In my view, the sentence that was imposed was right in keeping with the other case law,” he said. “(Some) people may not agree with the sentence, but it’s important to understand why it was chosen.”
Noting Courtney’s guilty plea and remorse, Brayford went on to say that tragedies — especially those created by drunk driving — cannot be solved with a sentence.
“Drunk driving fatalities are the saddest cases. You’ve got, typically, an offender who hasn’t otherwise been in conflict with the law, and you have an absolutely innocent person that has been killed,” he said.
On Sunday, May 20 at around 8:30 p.m., Ben Darchuk, founder of Ben’s Auto Glass, died in a vehicle collision on Highway 2 North while heading to the family cottage in Emma Lake.
Courtney, who was on his way back to Prince Albert, had been driving erratically, according to a witness statement. According to the accident reconstructionist, Darchuk’s vehicle had left skid marks, indicating that he attempted to avoid the accident.
Courtney was driving 99 km/h at the time of the accident. No skid marks from Courtney’s car were present, suggesting that he had not applied his brakes.
Tests revealed that Courtney was driving with an alcohol level above the legal limit and had taken cocaine. He was also given a ticket for public intoxication earlier in the day.
The Darchuk family declined comment following Wednesday’s sentencing.