Scarlett Wanbdiska was killed by an impaired driver on July 6, 2011. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
A drunk driver who struck and killed an 11-year-old girl at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation last year has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta handed out the sentence for Ronalda Stephanie Ross in Brandon provincial court on Monday. Ross was given four years, minus nine months already served.
"I’m very satisfied, although … no amount of time that she ever does is ever going to bring Scarlett back to us again," said Evelyn Wanbdiska, the victim’s grandmother.
"But at least she’s going to lose her freedom, and be away for a while, which will give us time to heal now."
Ross, a resident of Sioux Valley, previously pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death in the crash that killed Scarlett Wanbdiska on July 6, 2011.
Scarlett and three friends had been riding their bikes east along Highway 21, on the gravel portion of the road’s shoulder.
A witness had described how the girls stopped to admire some horses.
According to Crown attorney Rich Lonstrup, Ross admitted that she first saw the pedestrians, but was distracted when her cellphone went off.
She looked down at her phone and moments later she heard the sound of the collision.
Ross pulled over and called 911.
Ross was arrested at the scene, and charged with impaired driving causing death, driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit causing death and with careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act.
Scarlett was flown by helicopter to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, but she died later that evening.
The courtroom was filled with dozens of Scarlett’s family and friends, all wearing purple ribbons on their wrists to remember the young life taken too soon. Wanbdiska wrote a victim impact statement, on behalf of Scarlett’s mother Michelle and family. It was read in court by Lonstrup.
"How do I start to put into words, the heartache, the anguish and the loneliness that we all still feel since her passing?" the statement read. "She was only 11 years young, still hadn’t had a chance to live her life, never to be given the chance to grow into a young woman, never had the chance to have children, a family of her own, never to grow old."
Family members were visibly emotional while the victim impact statement was read in court.
"When I cry, the sorrow is so powerful," Wanbdiska wrote in the statement. "I miss her so, so much. She was my baby girl, my only granddaughter. My princess."
Scarlett was remembered as a "kind-hearted" and "loving" girl, a curious child who did extremely well in school.
She was also active in sports, joining a baseball team with relatives.
"She looked forward to playing and thoroughly enjoyed it," Wanbdiska wrote.
Ross had prepared a short letter to the family and stood up to read it in court.
"I’m sorry for taking such a precious loved one away from you," Ross said, through tears. "I am deeply sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen. I wish I could take it all back."
But for Wanbdiska and family, it was too little, too late.
"My first reaction … was how come she’s not facing us?" she said. "That would’ve meant more if she turned around and actually faced us … For me, it came too late and to me it wasn’t genuine."
When out on bail, Ross breached conditions twice by drinking alcohol.
The Crown had asked for three years minus time served, while defence lawyer Bob Harrison asked for two years, plus time served.
Ultimately, Hewitt-Michta decided to go with a longer sentence and a seven-year driving prohibition.
"This little girl is gone and she’s gone forever, and I don’t know if there will ever be enough words or enough actions … to convince this family of how remorseful you are," Hewitt-Michta said to Ross.
"The only thing you can do from this point on… is make sure that your actions, your words, everything you do ... prove that you’ve learned a lesson from all of this. Don’t touch another drop of alcohol … never make this mistake again."
Hewitt-Michta told Ross to look for opportunities to spread the message about the dangers of drinking and driving and to "honour the memory of that little girl."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 23, 2012