A teen has been sentenced to two years probation for a fatal drunk driving crash that killed a 29-year-old Sioux Valley Dakota Nation man.
In choosing to impose probation instead of jail, Judge Krystyna Tarwid cited the youth’s lack of a previous criminal record and aboriginal background.
She noted that the teen, a resident of a Westman First Nation, is poised to graduate from high school in a community that sees relatively few graduates.
“So what do I do with that? Do I ruin your future? Does that bring back the person who died? No,” Tarwid said, answering her own question.
The youth was sentenced on Tuesday after previously pleading guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit causing death and driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit causing bodily harm.
He was 16 years old when he lost control of a 2011 Chevy Silverado at an s-bend on Grand Valley Road around 2:45 a.m. on Sept. 2, 2011.
The truck rolled into the ditch and landed on the driver’s side.
The pickup truck was carrying five people, including Justin Andrew Branth who was killed. His body was in the back seat and an autopsy determined that he died from a fracture to the base of his skull.
Branth and three other occupants weren’t wearing seatbelts.
One female passenger, who’d been riding in the rear seat, was thrown halfway through the windshield and broken glass cut into her midsection.
Another male landed on the lower part of her body and suffered severe lacerations to his face.
Meanwhile, the young driver and another male managed to climb out of the wreck and went to a nearby home to get help. At that home, the driver initially told police that he’d been riding in the back seat and it took time for investigators to determine that he’d actually been the driver.
They used video surveillance footage from the parking lot of a Brandon hotel where the group had stopped during a beer run. The footage indicated that the teen had been the driver.
It’s also possible that the youth was confused about who’d been driving as he had a poor memory of events.
When interviewed by police in February, he indicated that he recalled driving down Grand Valley Road and concluded that he must have been the driver.
It was estimated that he had at least double the legal limit of alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. He was also driving without a licence.
During sentencing on Tuesday, Grant Hughes recommended the same sentence as one imposed on a teen who was recently sentenced for another fatal crash.
That teen driver had around the legal limit of alcohol in his system when he allowed a 14-year-old girl to sit in his lap. The resulting crash in the RM of Argyle in November 2010 killed 15-year-old Stefan Potter.
In that case, the youth was sent to jail for four months, followed by two months supervision in the community and then one year of probation.
However, Judge Tarwid noted that the driver in the Potter case wasn’t aboriginal, while the driver in the Grand Valley Road case was.
She noted the Supreme Court has instructed that the background of aboriginals needs to be considered during sentencing because they’re over-represented in jail.
Tarwid pointed to the need for rehabilitation and the potential of the young offender — he’ll soon graduate from high school in a First Nation community that has relatively few grads and he’s involved in a number of sports.
People continue to drink and drive despite reports of the hazards of drunk driving, Tarwid noted.
“Sending people to jail doesn’t always solve that problem,” she said.
Defence lawyer Bob Harrison asked for probation for his young client, a 17-year-old who is assessed as a very low risk to reoffend.
Tarwid imposed two years probation with substance abuse counselling and 240 hours of community service work.
The teen is also banned from driving for 10 years.
Branth’s family wasn’t in court for sentencing and Hughes said they couldn’t be reached by authorities.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 13, 2012