Lawyer for man guilty of dangerous driving causing death argues against 'crushing' sentence

·3 min read
Three people were found dead after the vehicle crashed in south Edmonton in July 2020.  (Art Raham/CBC - image credit)
Three people were found dead after the vehicle crashed in south Edmonton in July 2020. (Art Raham/CBC - image credit)

The lawyer for Oscar Benjumea, who has pleaded guilty to to three counts of dangerous driving causing death, says his client is filled with remorse and regret.

"He understands the tragedy of what he did," Dino Bottos said in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench Wednesday.

He asked the court to impose a sentence of between five and seven years, acknowledging it is much lower than the 13-years suggested by the Crown.

On July 3, 2020, Benjumea got behind the wheel of his car when the bars closed at 2 a.m. after drinking six ounces of alcohol that night.

His friend, Faisel Yousef, got in the front seat. Two women they met at the bar that night, Emma MacArthur and Georgia Donovan, sat in the back.

Bottos said the last thing his client remembers is pulling the seats forward so the two women could get into the back.

"He wishes he could explain why he drove so fast, so dangerously," Bottos said. "He has no recall of the driving itself."

According to an agreed statement of facts, Benjumea's vehicle reached a speed of 186 km/h in a 60 km/h zone along Calgary Trail before he lost control and crashed into a Starbucks.

"He came to with three dead passengers and he was alive," Justice Peter Michalyshen noted.

"He has no recall of anyone being in his car," Bottos said. "He has no recall of seeing anyone in and around the ground."

When a passerby stopped at the scene, he saw the driver's door open with Benjumea's seatbelt disconnected and the airbag deployed. According to the agreed statement of facts, Benjumea appeared to be unconscious but the good Samaritan pulled him out, laid him on the ground and called 911.

Art Raham/CBC
Art Raham/CBC

When Benjumea came to, he was visibly injured and bleeding. Witnesses weren't sure if he saw the bodies of his passengers lying on the ground.

They said he began pacing around the collision scene with his hands over his head repeating, "I'm f--king done."

Surveillance video showed Benjumea walking briskly away from the scene, then breaking into a run. He ended up at his girlfriend's downtown apartment where he showered and changed clothes.

He asked her to wash the clothes he had been wearing. In the morning, he asked an employee to drive him to his south Edmonton house and he was arrested early that afternoon.

Benjumea also pleaded guilty to fleeing the collision scene without providing assistance to his passengers.

'Vengeance forms no part of the Canadian justice system'

Bottos acknowledged the pain felt by the friends and families of the victims as expressed in 51 victim impact statements.

Marty Melnychuk/Facebook
Marty Melnychuk/Facebook

"Victim impact statements were poignant, difficult to read and especially difficult to hear," Bottos said. "They had a profound effect on everyone, especially Mr. Benjumea."

He acknowledged there are some members of the public who would prefer to see his client locked up in jail and the key thrown away.

"The court must be careful not to impose a sentence that might make some members of the public feel that their desire for vengeance is satisfied," Bottos said. "Vengeance forms no part of the Canadian justice system."

He suggested the 13 years requested by the Crown goes against sentencing principles, describing it as a "crushing" sentence that could leave his client a "social cripple."

Submitted by Faisa Yousef
Submitted by Faisa Yousef

"He's never been to jail before," Bottos said. "I would suggest he has excellent prospects of rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

"A year in prison is a very long time. Especially for younger offenders."

Bottos is also asking the judge to reduce Benjumea's sentence by nearly three years for time he's already served in custody.

The sentencing hearing will conclude Thursday afternoon. Bottos said his client plans to make a statement.

Michalyshyn will sentence Benjumea on Jan. 14.

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