By Delon Shurtz on January 19, 2021.
A Lethbridge man who attempted to flee from police in a stolen vehicle will have to spend a few more weeks in custody, even though he hoped to be released last week.
Anthony Douglas Johnston had hoped Judge Kristin Ailsby would agree with a defence recommendation last week for a sentence of 13 months, which would equal the amount of time Johnston has already spent in remand on several charges, effectively concluding his sentence. The Crown, on the other hand, was seeking a 25-month sentence in a federal prison.
Ailsby rejected both suggestions, and during a sentencing hearing in Lethbridge provincial court sentenced Johnston to 17 months in jail. However, after crediting him one and half days for every day he spent in pre-trial custody, Johnston has less than two months remaining on his sentence.
Johnston pleaded guilty in September to charges of possession of stolen property over $5,000, possession of stolen property under $5,000, flight from a peace officer, driving while prohibited, and possession of a weapon while prohibited from doing so.
According to an agreed statement of facts, a woman called police about 8 a.m. March 20 to report her Ford Explorer had been stolen. The woman called police again a few hours later and said she was tracking her vehicle using GPS technology.
A police officer saw the vehicle and followed it into a Dairy Queen drive-through on Mayor Magrath Drive south, where he and an officer in a second, unmarked police vehicle, used their vehicles to trap the stolen truck.
Johnston, who saw the unmarked vehicle approaching him and thought he would be struck, attempted to avoid the collision and drive away.
The other officer activated his emergency lights and siren, closed the distance, and caused the bumpers of both vehicles to collide. The Explorer spun out and hit an adjacent motel building, causing $75,000-$100,000 in damages.
Although the Explorer was trapped, Johnston put it in reverse, and for about 30 more seconds attempted to escape. Officers approached both sides of the vehicle with their guns drawn, and Johnston and two passengers were arrested.
Police found a canister of bear spray inside the Explorer, and inside Johnston’s backpack they found a key for a Hyundai Elantra that had also been stolen in March, but later recovered.
“He put himself at risk and the safety of others,” Ailsby said during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.
She pointed out several aggravating factors that influenced her decision, including Johnston’s lengthy criminal record, the dangerous circumstances of the offence, and the fact he was driving while prohibited. But she also noted his young age, the likelihood for rehabilitation, and his sincere remorse.
Ailsby also prohibited Johnston from driving for four years, but she did not place him on probation, even though defence had, in it’s recommendation for time served, previously suggested probation for 18 months.
“I don’t want to set him up to fail,” Ailsby explained.
During a hearing in December, Calgary lawyer Robin McIntyre referred to an assessment that describes Johnston’s life in multiple foster homes, his addictions to alcohol and drugs, and his penchant for violence. Johnston’s mother, who stabbed herself in front of him when he was eight years old, was also an addict. Johnston’s girlfriend died of an overdose, and his father attempted to commit suicide.
Johnston may also suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, although he has never been diagnosed, McIntyre added.
Johnston told court last month he never tried to understand his criminal behaviour before, but he has come to understand that his addictions are a disease, and although he knows he has hurt people, he realizes he was also a victim. He said he want to continue receiving help, and hopes to become a role model for others with similar struggles.
“I’m still young enough I can pick up the pieces,” he said Thursday.
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