Relatives of a Hutterite man who was severely injured in a crash say they forgive the drunk driver who caused the wreck and asked a judge to spare him from jail.
They say the convicted drunk driver is a “victim of society” — the product of the prevalence of alcohol and lack of proper teaching.
“The last thing that the colony and the members would want is for Joel Gonyer to serve a prison term ... a jail term would not serve anybody any good,” said Wellwood Hutterite Colony secretary Robert Hofer, who is also a brother of one of the crash victims.
Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta said she respected the victims’ gesture of forgiveness, but sparing the driver from jail was something she couldn’t do — she had to deliver a sentence that would deter other drunk drivers, she said.
“My responsibility is to all of those innocent people who travel our highways on a daily basis,” Hewitt-Michta said as she sentenced Joel Evan Gonyer, 29, to 10 months in jail and banned him from driving for four years.
Gonyer was sentenced on Thursday after previously pleading guilty to two counts of driving impaired causing bodily harm.
He caused a head-on collision along Highway 10 south of Brandon on the evening of Oct. 18, 2012.
A man who was driving behind Gonyer’s northbound SUV recalls how it swerved across the centre line and then the other way onto the shoulder. The man passed and looked back to see the SUV swerve into the southbound lane and hit an oncoming van.
In the van was 76-year-old Peter Hofer, his daughter, Eileen, and son, Jerry, all of the Wellwood Hutterite Colony near Ninette. They’d been to Brandon for Jerry’s medical appointment.
Police arrived at the crash scene to find debris scattered across the road for several hundred yards.
Gonyer was considered the most seriously injured and it took an hour for emergency workers to free him from the wreck of his GMC Jimmy. Meanwhile, Peter and 48-year-old Eileen waited to be freed from the van.
Jerry walked away from the damaged van without serious injuries but Eileen and Peter weren’t as lucky.
Father, daughter and Gonyer were taken to Brandon hospital.
Police found an open beer can in the front passenger area of Gonyer’s SUV. Another four cans of beer were loose in the back seat with an empty beer case and another bottle of alcohol.
Blood tests showed that Gonyer had about double the legal limit of alcohol in his system.
Eileen’s injuries included a bruised abdominal wall and pain across her spleen area, hip, ribs and back. Following court, Robert Hofer said she is now doing fine.
Peter’s injuries were worse and he remained in hospital for some time. They included a head injury, broken ribs and fractured leg, pelvis and vertebrae. As a result, he has required physical and occupational therapy.
Peter wasn’t in court for Gonyer’s sentencing, but Robert Hofer read from his victim impact statement on his brother’s behalf.
Due to his injuries, Peter still has trouble walking and concentrating, and has memory loss. Nerve damage to his back and foot means he always needs supervision. He can no longer work as the colony’s hog breeding technician, which is a job he enjoyed.
“My only comfort is reading from scripture,” he wrote in his statement.
Gonyer is a British Columbia resident who was staying in the Deloraine area while working in construction in the oilfield.
Prior to the crash, he’d taken sleeping pills and was drinking before driving to Brandon to meet a friend.
Before this incident, he had no criminal record and a clean driving record.
Gonyer suffered severe injuries too, his lawyer Ryan Fawcett said. Gonyer was in hospital for two months and bedridden for weeks more.
Both his legs were broken (his left leg is now shorter than his right which causes back problems), he had a cracked tailbone, his left ankle was fused and won’t bend, there’s nerve damage to his foot and his knees still cause him pain.
He’s had eight surgeries and will likely need more, and will need physiotherapy for some time.
Gonyer quit drinking following the crash, Fawcett said.
» Twitter: @IanHitchen
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 28, 2014