Effort to tackle drug addiction earns offender break on sentencing

·4 min read

A subject of a high-profile takedown that forced the closure of the Hart Highway for several hours in 2017 was sentenced Thursday to 10 1/2 months of house arrest followed by three years of probation.

Crown prosecution had been seeking four years in federal prison for Jamie Hal Hammerstrom but the steps he has since taken to turn his life around were enough to convince Provincial Court Judge Martin Nadon to side with defence counsel's position.

Hammerstrom and co-accused John Robert Barton Craig were apprehended on July 17, 2019 for an incident that began when a shotgun was stolen from a home in the Chief Lake area and ended with some tense moments as the two tried to escape arrest.

Later that morning, RCMP spotted a pickup truck in the area matching one seen in images from the home's security camera. Hammerstrom has denied participating in the robbery but admitted to being behind the wheel during the ensuing events.

He took off at a high speed and shortly afterwards, two other RCMP came across the vehicle heading south on the Hart Highway then turning onto Knell Road.

With two RCMP vehicles in pursuit, Hammerstrom pulled a U-turn. One of the RCMP positioned his vehicle to block the way out and was struck on the front passenger side as Hammerstrom swerved to escape police. An officer driving a second RCMP vehicle then deliberately struck the pickup which then continued on at a high speed across the highway's four lanes and hit an embankment.

Wearing masks, Hammerstrom and co-accused John Robert Barton Craig jumped out of the truck. Hammerstrom then reached back and pulled out a loaded semi-automatic12-gauge shotgun and ran with an officer in pursuit with his gun drawn.

When Hammerstrom failed to comply with an order to stop, the officer fired off a warning shot. Hammerstrom dropped his gun and kept running before finally complying with a further order to stop and drop to the ground. Two more shotgun shells were found in his jacket during a subsequent search.

Craig, meanwhile, had flagged down a member of the public who was under the mistaken belief he was helping police. Craig punched the man in the face and attempted to steal the vehicle. But the man fought back and Craig was arrested at gunpoint.

The scene was closed to traffic in both directions for several hours as police gathered evidence.

Hammerstrom subsequently pleaded guilty to five counts and roughly six months after the arrest, he was released from custody to attend a residential treatment centre to deal with an addiction to methamphetamine.

During a hearing on sentencing in May, Rick Evans, operations director of Integrity Recovery Society, described Hammerstrom as a highly motivated client who now understands his addictions and how to deal with them and has remained sober and fully employed.

On Thursday, Nadon made note of Hammerstrom's lengthy and "unenviable" criminal past that included a sentence for gun-related offences, but in the end endorsed defence counsel David Hopkins' position.

"His transformation in the last 15 months has been extraordinary. It is a success story that ought to be encouraged," Nadon said.

Sentencing Hammerstrom to a term in prison risks "undoing all the good that has been done," Nadon added.

"Ultimately what we want if for people to get their addictions under control and to stop committing crime."

In all, Hammerstrom was sentenced to a two-year conditional sentence order (CSO) less credit of 413 days for time served prior to sentencing, leaving 316 days. Conditional sentence orders allow the offender to serve the sentence at home rather than in a jail.

The added term of probation means Hammerstrom will remain under supervision for a further three years once the CSO has been served, Nadon noted.

During the CSO, Hammerstrom is allowed off the property only between 4-6 p.m. daily or when he is at work or taking counselling as directed by his supervisor. He must also wear an electronic monitoring device.

During the first year of his probation, he must abide by a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Hammerstrom was also prohibited from driving for three years and he must pay $4,470.51 restitution for the damage to the road and guardrail during the crash.

In October 2020, Craig was sentenced to a further 66 days in jail and three years probation. By then, he had been in custody for 455 days.

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen

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