UPDATE: Crown in Thunder Bay trailer-hitch manslaughter case recommending 8-12 year sentence

·6 min read

THUNDER BAY — The prosecution in the case of a Thunder Bay man who threw a metal trailer hitch at a Wabigoon Lake Ojibway First Nation woman in 2017 is recommending a sentence between eight to 12 years of incarceration.

Barbara Kentner, a 34-year-old mother, died in July 2017 after suffering a perforated bowel as a result of being hit in the abdomen in January 2017.

A Superior court judge found Brayden Bushby, now 22, guilty on one count of manslaughter in connection with Kentner’s death in December 2020 after a four-day trial.

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Crown prosecutor Trevor Jukes announced they are seeking a custodial sentence between eight to 12 years for Bushby while defence counsel asked for a four-year sentence.

Crown counsel argued a custodial sentence of up to 12 years is warranted for Bushby considering several aggravating factors involved in the offence.

Prosecutor Andrew Sadler said in his submissions on Wednesday this was a case where the victim was physically vulnerable and couldn’t protect herself from the unprovoked trailer hitch assault.

“There was no warning that [Ms. Kentner] was about to be assaulted. The offence occurred at night making it even more difficult for the Kentner’s to see what was about to happen,” Sadler said.

Further, the assault occurred in a public place where it is appropriate to note that people should be “entitled to expect safety”, the Crown said.

In addition to aggravating circumstances, lawyers said Bushby reacted with satisfaction after the assault, yelling ‘I got one.' There was also an absence of evidence that Bushby tried to assist Kentner after he threw the trailer hitch, the Crown argued.

Ultimately it was two other individuals in the vehicle with Bushby who asked for the car to turn around to check on the Kentners, court heard.

“What we have here is what can be described as an overall callous indifference toward the wellbeing of another human being and that resulted in a significant impact on both the Kentner family and on the community as a whole,” Sadler said.

Crown counsel also asked the court to consider section 718. 2 of the criminal code where the court can consider evidence that Bushby’s motive behind the offence was based on bias or prejudice.

On the night Bushby assaulted Kentner, witnesses inside the car with him testified he wanted to drive around and “yell at hookers” in an area known where street-level sex workers are known to frequent in Thunder Bay, Sadler said.

“The decision to throw the trailer hitch at two people walking down the side of the street in that location can allow this court to infer beyond a reasonable doubt that it was bias or prejudice toward women that played a part in motivating this offence,” Sadler said.

Another aggravating factor was the effort involved in committing the offence.

“Getting himself from the front seat up to sitting on the edge of the door, leaning out the window while holding a heavy metal object that required two hands to hold securely in order to fling at someone from a moving vehicle demonstrates an action of high-degree moral culpability,” Sadler said.

Lawyers also noted Bushby’s level of intoxication the night of the offence. Despite being drunk, lawyers argued there was no evidence to suggest he was at a “blackout” state.

Defence counsel Ryan Green for Bushby argued a sentence of up to 12 years for his client is too harsh considering he is a first-time offender with no criminal record and the “shortest possible sentence” should be sought in order to give Bushby a chance at rehabilitation.

Green read points from Bushby’s pre-sentence report which described him as a young local man, loving son, new father and supportive partner to his fiancé.

“The proposed sentence would instill a sense of responsibility without crushing Mr. Bushby,” Green said, adding his client had just turned 18 at the time of the offence.

Defence also argued the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bushby knew the individuals walking on the side of the road that night were female.

An autopsy report determined Kentner’s death was caused by complications arising from the blunt force injury to her abdomen. End-stage liver disease was also listed as a second significant cause of Kentner’s death however it was not related to the immediate cause, according to a post-mortem examination report.

Pathologist Toby Rose who conducted Kentner's autopsy described her as a "chronically ill and seriously ill woman" but despite her illness, she would not have died when she did had she not been injured, according to her testimony.

Victim and community impact statements were read in court during the first half of sentencing submissions on Wednesday.

“The death of my mother has affected me in many ways,” Serena, the surviving daughter of Kentner wrote in her victim impact statement.

Serena was still in high school when her mother’s health began to deteriorate after she was injured in 2017 and admitted into the hospital.

Eventually, she had to move back to Ontario and drop out of school in Grade 10 in order to be at her mom’s side.

“When my mom was killed, my grades fell,” Serena said. “Before that happened, I was part of a leadership program and I really enjoyed school.”

Serena was recently diagnosed with Leukemia and has been undergoing treatment in Ottawa for cancer, something that has been difficult to do without her mom by her side, she said.

“Every sick kid needs their mom. Talking to doctors is hard and my mom being gone is hard,” she wrote.

Kentner’s daughter stated after her mom’s death she coped by turning to alcohol and marijuana.

“The substances made me not feel or think about what happened and that my mom was gone,” Serena said.

Kentner’s sisters, Connie and Melissa, also submitted impact statements describing how much they miss their sister’s smile and the joy she brought into their lives.

They wrote they both suffer from stress, anxiety and depression as a result of her death.

Kentner’s other sister, Cheryl, spoke of the impact Bushby’s actions have caused.

"Today the only comfort I can find is that from this day forward life is going to get very difficult for you," Cheryl wrote. "From this day, you will be known as a killer, as a person who callously took a life."

Community impact statements were also submitted from the Nokiiwin Tribal Council, Indigenous Bar Association and Ontario Native Women's Association.

Bushby addressed the court offering an apology and accepting responsibility for his actions on Wednesday.

"I hope to use this time in custody to be a better person," he said, adding Kentner did not deserve what happened to her.

Bushby’s trial focused on the issue of causation and whether or not the injury Kentner sustained in January 2017 was a significant contributing factor to her death approximately five months later.

Kentner and her older sister, Melissa, had been walking alongside of a residential road in Thunder Bay on Jan. 29, 2017, shortly after 1 a.m. when she was struck in the abdomen by a trailer hitch from a moving vehicle.

Kentner testified herself through a recorded video statement played by Crown lawyers on the first day of the trial that the force of being hit knocked her to knees.

Bushby is scheduled to return to court on May 4 at 10 a.m. to be sentenced.

For more coverage on this case, go here.

Karen Edwards, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source