June 24th, 2024

War veteran sentenced for pedestrian fatality


By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on March 15, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

A war veteran who struck and killed her former spouse with a vehicle nearly two years ago, has received a federal prison sentence.
Melissa Dumaine Whitegrass, who was facing charges of first-degree murder, assault with a weapon and dangerous driving causing death, pleaded guilty last week in Lethbridge provincial court to the single count of dangerous driving causing death and was sentenced to nearly three and a half years in prison.
The other two charges, particularly the murder charge, were withdrawn after it was determined Whitegrass did not intend to hit the victim with her vehicle, Lethbridge lawyer Scott Hadford said Monday.
“After working with the Crown, it was determined that the first-degree murder charge would be withdrawn, and that Miss Whitegrass could plead only to the dangerous driving causing death,” Hadford said. “This became possible once all parties were able to agree that Miss Whitegrass never intended to cause harm.”
Whitegrass, a decorated war veteran who was injured while serving in Afghanistan in 2010, was charged March 2 of last year, nine months after police responded to a motor vehicle collision June 1, 2020 involving a pedestrian – Whitegrass’s former common law spouse – in the west alley of the 900 block of 13 Street South. Thirty-year-old Austin James Forsyth was rushed to Chinook Regional Hospital where he later died.
Police reported at the time they believed Whitegrass intentionally struck Forsyth with her vehicle, but Hadford said even though a passenger in her vehicle fled, she stayed and performed CPR on Forsyth.
Although sentenced to a federal penitentiary term of nearly three and a half years, Whitegrass, 38, was given credit for the equivalent of about eighteen and a half months she has already spent in remand custody, leaving a sentence of two years. Her drivers licence has also been suspended for five years.
Hadford pointed out Judge Kristin Ailsby recommended Whitegrass serve her sentence at an Indigenous healing lodge for women, which will support her aboriginal culture and provide specific programs to address her social, educational, emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
“One of the things with my client is that her spirituality is a big deal to her, and she’s trying to blend Christianity with traditional indigenous spirituality.”

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