By Greg Nikkel
Motorist Keith Dunford was sentenced to two years less a day in jail for his conviction of dangerous driving causing death.
Justice Lana Krogan handed down the sentence on Friday morning in Court of Queen’s Bench in Weyburn, including a driving prohibition for three years following his release from prison.
In addition, there was an order for a victim surcharge of $200, or five days in jail concurrently if the fine cannot be paid.
Dunford, 47, was led from the Weyburn Court House into custody, but was later out on bail as his lawyer, Aaron Fox, is appealing both the conviction and the sentence, citing legal errors by Justice Krogan in her deliberations.
The Crown prosecutor, Mitchell Miller, said they will study the written decision and assess it before deciding whether to appeal the sentence or not.
The Crown was seeking a jail term of three years, plus a five-year driving prohibition.
Dunford, an experienced truck driver who immigrated to Canada from England, was convicted after hitting a highway flagperson, Ashley Richards, and killing her in a construction zone on Highway 39 near Midale on Aug. 24, 2012.
Richards employer, HJR Asphalt, which was the contractor doing the highway paving on Highway 39, made sure they had a representative at every court hearing in this case.
“It’s very important to us, because we’re sending people out there every day during construction season,” said Glen Willick of HJR Asphalt in speaking to reporters after the sentencing, noting they are looking for the courts to support contractors to help keep construction zones safe.
He pointed out that while the laws were tightened up after Richards’ death, there are still construction workers being injured and killed, with three killed this past summer in Saskatchewan.
Willick said the reaction to the sentence was mixed, as in a tragedy like this, there are no winners.
“He could get 20 years and we still won’t get Ashley back,” he said. “Is it enough? I don’t know what enough is. I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to slow down.”
As a contractor, they are paying a lot of money to put up more signs warning the public, plus putting on photo radar to enforce the 60 km-an-hour speed limit in the orange construction zones, “but we’re happy to do it. … We’ve invested a lot of money, but how do you put a price on a life?”
After the speed zones went into effect with harsher penalties, said Willick, people complained that it was a “cash cow”.
“But if it was your family member, would you like your son or daughter to work as a flag person? They are all sons and daughters … We want everybody going home at the end of the day,” said Willick.
He has worked in the industry for over 20 years, and said “the worst thing” is to have to tell a family that their son or daughter was not coming home again.
In the sentencing hearing, Justice Krogan laid out the factors she needed to consider in handing down a sentence, including taking note of similar cases and sentences handed down for this charge, the circumstances of this offence, and mitigating factors.
Looking at the cases cited by the Crown, the justice said she put little value in their precedence as the circumstances were vastly different from this case, often involving a driver who was drunk, where Dunford was not impaired by alcohol, nor did he have a criminal record.
The justice noted a sentence must include denunciation and deterrence, to warn other motorists of what consequences they might face in a similar circumstance, and it must also be appropriate to the gravity of the offence. The sentence must also be proportionate to the offence so that it can be considered “just and appropriate”.
Noting that Dunford drove through the 13.1-km construction zone without noting any of the warning signs, and passed two semi-truck trailers in that distance, partly due to being distracted, signalled to her that the “gravity of this offence is high”.
“I consider his blameworthiness to be high,” said Justice Krogan, pointing out that he had traveled through this construction at Midale earlier the same day, so he knew it was in the area.
His attention was distracted “for a time” as he was looking at his immigration papers, and the wind coming through the windows caused them to be messed up.
In her judgement, his lack of attention to his driving led to a disregard of the safety of those working on the highway and for others travelling on the highway, and she considered these to be aggravating factors, not to mention the “devastating effect on the family and her partner” of Richards’ death as “mitigating factors”.
She felt that Dunford had “a high degree of culpability”, and said the term of probation asked for by his lawyer “will not satisfy deterrence” and “such a sentence would not be appropriate.”
Justice Krogan said she had to balance off the negative factors with facts in his favour, including that Dunford was not likely to ever reoffend, plus he had no criminal record, although he did have some tickets for driving offences.
In addition, he stopped to assist the victim right away, called 911, and cooperated with the police who investigated the accident.
In the end, said Justice Krogan, she felt the proper sentence here “must be a period of incarceration.”
By Greg Nikkel