By Jensen, Randy on September 5, 2020.
A sentencing hearing for a southern Alberta man convicted of failing to stop at the scene of an accident where a person had died added another layer of tragedy to an already tragic story after the court heard that the man himself is now dying of cancer.
Judge Paul Pharo heard arguments on Friday in Lethbridge provincial court from both defence lawyer Balfour Der and Crown lawyer Erin Olsen as to what they deemed an appropriate sentence for Michael White Quills, 33, who accidentally struck and killed 26-year-old Gage Christian Good Rider on Sept. 5, 2018 while Good Rider and a female companion, D.J. Long Time Squirrel, were walking toward her home along Highway 5 just south of the city.
Olsen said given the aggravating circumstances in the case – that White Quills admitted to drinking up to 11 cans of beer in previous 20 hours before the accident occurred, that he admitted to being fatigued while behind the wheel, that he admitted he had been speeding (91-111 km/ h in a 60 km/h zone) at the time of the accident, and he admitted to not having his eyes on the road as he reached to adjust the radio when the vehicle struck Good Rider – a more serious sentence was warranted. She also said there was a question as to White Quills intent when he fled the accident scene after knowing he had struck something which caused serious damage to his vehicle.
White Quills previously admitted he left the scene after striking what he thought was a deer because he was afraid insurance wouldn’t cover the damage because he was driving his parents’ vehicle and was not listed as a valid driver on the vehicle. He also admitted he was concerned police might think he had been drinking and driving because his companions in the pickup truck with him were severely intoxicated at the time, and there was beer in the vehicle.
Olsen said these fears led to White Quills fleeing the scene, and he had shown a degree of wilful forethought in doing so. He made a conscious decision to flee, she said, and had not fled in blind panic.
In trial White Quills admitted after learning Good Rider had been killed in the collision through social media the next morning he had not immediately turned himself into police. He had instead attended the local rodeo, drank more beer, and consulted with his sister as to what he should do. He had then slept on it, and gone to the police the next day.
Olsen told Judge Pharo given these aggravating factors she had originally intended to ask for a nine-month conditional jail sentence, which White Quills would be allowed to serve in the community. But due to his recently diagnosed medical condition, Olsen felt a three-month conditional sentence, to be served in the community, would be appropriate in this case.
“It’s still a jail sentence,” she said, “but to be served in the community.”
Olsen also asked for a 15-month driving prohibition for White Quills.
Der argued White Quills had no criminal record, had, until recently, been steadily employed, had willingly turned himself over to the police, and had initially offered to plead guilty to the charge he was ultimately convicted of in an attempt to avoid a painful trial. These factors, he suggested, and based on compassionate grounds because his client has been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and has entered palliative care, would mean a $1,000 fine was sufficient to the crime alongside a 12-month driving prohibition.
He reminded the court, as determined by his honour in trial, that the Crown had not met the burden of proof that showed his client had known he had killed a person, and therefore the fact the death occurred should have no bearing on sentencing as an aggravating factor in this case.
White Quills had originally been charged with failing to stop at the scene of a collision causing death, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, but was instead found guilty in July of the lesser offence of failing to stop in order to escape civil or criminal liability after striking another vehicle.
Besides these arguments, Pharo also heard victim impact statements on Friday from Good Rider’s mother and father, Marlene Heavy Runner and Tom Good Rider. Both said their health had been severely impacted by the loss of their youngest son and they were now on antidepressants because of their grief. They also said Good Rider’s children were having a difficult time coping with the loss of their father.
Two other victim impact statements from family members were not read out in court Friday after Der objected to some of the accusations made in them, and asked these accusations be redacted before the remainder of the statements were read out.
Pharo said he would take time to study the matter before making a ruling on Der’s objections. Pharo also asked if White Quills would like to say anything on his own behalf.
White Quills stood and addressed Good Rider’s family directly.
“I have no idea what you are going through,” he said. “I’m honestly very sorry, and I think about it all the time.”
The matter will return to court in Lethbridge on Oct. 7 when Pharo is expected to deliver an appropriate sentence for White Quills.
– With files from Delon Shurtz