Drunk driver in fatal 2019 Whitehorse crash to serve 23 months in jail

·5 min read
A close-up of the signage on the courthouse in Whitehorse.  (Jackie Hong/CBC  - image credit)
A close-up of the signage on the courthouse in Whitehorse. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)

A Haines Junction man who was drunk when he crashed his car on Whitehorse's Hamilton Boulevard in 2019, killing two of his passengers, will spend just under two years in jail.

Yukon territorial court Judge Peter Chisholm handed down a sentence of 30 months' jail followed by two years' probation and a six-year-long driving prohibition to 24-year-old Anthony Andre on Thursday afternoon.

However, with credit for time spent in pre-trial custody, Andre will have only 23 months left behind bars. The driving prohibition will also only be in effect for 41 months, or just less than three-and-a-half years, after his release to account for the time he's already spent under strict no-driving bail conditions.

Andre had double the legal limit of alcohol in his system on May 13, 2019, when he drove off Hamilton Boulevard onto the unpaved median and into a light standard. Passengers Stallion Smarch and Faith Lynn Papineau, both 18 and friends of Andre's, were killed in the crash, while a third passenger was seriously injured.

Andre was found guilty in March of two counts of impaired driving causing death and one count of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

The Crown, at a sentencing hearing Tuesday, had sought three years in jail for Andre followed by a 10-year-long driving prohibition, while the defence asked for a sentence of 18 months in jail followed by two years' probation and a three-to-five-year-long driving ban.

The Crown had also requested a DNA order, which Chisholm ultimately granted, while the defence had argued it wasn't necessary. A DNA order allows police to take a sample from Andre and store in a police databank.

'Loss and heartache' caused by deaths 'profound,' judge says

In his oral decision, delivered to a courtroom packed with family members of both the victims and Andre, Chisholm acknowledged that the "loss and heartache" endured by the loved ones of the deceased was "profound." While some remain angry at Andre, Chisholm said he was also "struck" by Smarch's father offering Andre forgiveness in his victim impact statement.

As well, Chisholm noted that community impact statements provided by Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Liard First Nation, of which Smarch and Papineau were citizens, respectively, clearly laid out the serious, wide-reaching effect the crash had on the communities at large.

Although the consequences of the drunk driving weren't intentional, Chisholm continued, Andre still "put himself behind the wheel when he was unfit to drive," resulting in the deaths of two of his friends and serious injury to another. He described Andre's moral blameworthiness as high, but also noted Andre was a young man at the time of the crash with no criminal record and difficult life circumstances.

While Andre had entered a "downward spiral" after the crash, racking up two bail breaches as well as a count of impersonation, Chisholm said Andre had successfully followed his bail conditions for more than a year now, made "some steps" toward addressing his issues and was clearly remorseful.

Chisholm said it would benefit Andre, a member of the Gwichya Gwich'in community of Tsiigehtchic in the Northwest Territories with ties to Kwanlin Dün First Nation, to be able to stay in the Yukon for his sentence where he has access to family support.

Andre's probation conditions include keeping the peace, attending and participating in counselling for substance and alcohol abuse and performing 50 hours of community service. He will also be eligible to apply for an interlock device, where a driver needs to provide a breath sample before starting a vehicle, 14 months after he's released from custody.

"You have a long life ahead of you, hopefully," Chisholm said to Andre, urging him to take advantage of the opportunities before him to get help and to not only look into options like Indigenous-focused rehabilitation programs, but actually participate in them.

"You need that assistance. Good luck, sir."

Andre was allowed to hug several of his family members and supporters in the court gallery before being taken away. He also hugged Diane Smith, Smarch's grandmother.

'This is what I believe my grandson would want'

Smith told CBC News outside the courthouse afterwards that she was happy with the outcome.

During the sentencing hearing Tuesday, Smith said she had forgiven Andre and urged the judge to not send him to a penitentiary, explaining that she believed it would do more harm than good.

"I lost my grandson — [Andre] was his best friend, and for him to be sent away from here and family, it would have affected us more, the victims" Smith said.

"And today I am quite pleased and I feel good now. I feel a heavy burden that [has] lifted off of me since 2019 … I can move forward now."

Smith acknowledged that not everyone in the community might feel that way.

"There is going to be a lot of young people hurting today, until they really understand, and to forgive also, you know?" she said. "This is what I believe my grandson would want, because Anthony Andre was his friend … If Stallion was alive today, he'd be right there to support him."

She added that she hoped both youth and adults would take at least one message away from the situation.

"People that drink and drive, you need to stop," Smith said, "because it does take life."

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