A man who crashed his truck after driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit and a rifle in the back was sent to jail for two months on Monday morning.
Clifford Strong pleaded guilty in Brandon provincial court to driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit and careless storage of a firearm.
The incident started on July 4, 2020, when Brandon police received a 911 call about a two-vehicle collision in the 3400 block of Victoria Avenue, Crown attorney Yaso Mathu told the court.
Strong, who was driving a Dodge truck, fled the scene, she said, but officers found him nearby in a parking lot.
While talking to Strong, police could smell a strong odour of alcohol on his breath, so he was arrested.
Mathu said police found a loaded rifle and open liquor in the back of the truck while Strong was on the way to the police station. In total, officers found a Remington rifle, two magazines of .22-calibre ammunition, one bag of .22-calibre ammunition, one box of .22 WMR rounds, a .303-calibre rifle, ammunition and knives.
Strong provided breath samples once at Brandon police headquarters. His blood-alcohol level was found to be 200 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, Mathu told the court. The legal limit in Manitoba is 80 milligrams.
At the time, Strong told police had just received distressing personal news, so that’s why he started drinking on the night in question.
Mathu also read a victim impact statement to the court from the woman driving the other vehicle in the collision. She said she was in the vehicle that night driving east on Victoria Avenue with her friend after receiving news of a negative COVID-19 test.
"We were going 50 or 60 km/h and came to a green light at the 34th Street intersection, so I proceed through the intersection," Mathu read the court from the victim impact statement.
"Next thing I know, I’m in a cloudy, smoky car, it smells like something is burning. I was very confused and there was ringing in my ears. I look over at my friend and I ask her what happened. I can hear people yelling ‘Get the girls out of the car.’"
The woman said in her statement she was transported to the hospital and later diagnosed with a concussion.
Mathu asked the judge to sentence him to a $1,500 fine and between 45 and 60 days in jail for the crimes.
"He was driving around severely impaired, I would say, with weapons in his vehicle," she said.
"This could have been a much more serious situation than what he’s facing. He himself could have been killed, (the victim) could have been killed and her friend could have been killed. Instead, they were injured, but the trauma of that day I think remains with all of the parties."
Defence lawyer David Gray said Strong was coming back from a hunting trip at the time, so that’s why he had the rifle in his vehicle. He has had a significant problem with alcohol, which he fell back into on the day of the incident after reacting badly to family news.
Gray disputed the statement that Strong fled the scene, saying police found him in a nearby parking lot and he did not run away.
Strong also has a variety of Gladue factors, Gray said, and his family has been affected by the legacy of residential schools. Since the incident, he has gone to counselling consistently for help with his addiction issues and is getting help.
While Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta said the recommended sentence for the crimes was very low, Gray said there were issues with the Crown’s case, so the two sides came to an agreement.
Speaking to the court, Strong said the collision opened his eyes and he hasn’t touched booze since.
Hewitt-Michta said the incident was serious and no "garden variety impaired driving situation." She said it was made more concerning by the fact he collided with an occupied vehicle.
"This is more complicated and more serious than that," she said, adding Strong was also found with a firearm in his vehicle.
Hewitt-Michta sentenced him to a total of two months in jail and a two-year driving ban from driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit. She also fined him $1,500 for the firearms charge and a five-year ban from owning firearms.
» Twitter: @DrewMay_