P.E.I. driver sentenced to 5 years in prison for fatal crash that killed cyclist

·4 min read

A woman from Earnscliffe, P.E.I., who struck and killed a cyclist while driving impaired has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Norma Jean Hunter, 44, was sentenced in P.E.I. Supreme Court Tuesday.

She had pleaded guilty in September to impaired driving causing death and leaving the scene of an accident.

Her car struck Jacob (Jake) Simmons, 27, in Kinross on June 12 at about 6 pm. Hunter's car hit Simmons from behind. A passing motorist called police, who arrested Hunter 12 kilometres away.

Tests found Hunter's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit. She told police she'd had 13 drinks before the accident. She was on her way to Montague to visit her boyfriend. He had offered to call a taxi, but she declined, choosing to drive instead.

The court heard seven victim impact statements from family and friends prior to the sentencing, describing what Simmons' loss has meant to them.

They described Simmons as a top athlete, in soccer, basketball and, recently, in marathon running. He ran 27 marathons in 2019, including ones in all three Maritime provinces.

They told the court there's too much drinking and driving on P.E.I. and they hope this tragedy will warn others not to make the same mistake.

A mother's grief

Brenda Simmons described her son as "happy, warm, funny, creative, with natural athletic abilities."

At six foot seven, Simmons stood out. She said he only missed two days of training in 2020, even on cold winter days.

Submitted by family
Submitted by family

The family had hoped to donate Jacob's organs after his death, but she said they were unable to as his body had to go to Nova Scotia for an autopsy.

She said she hasn't been able to return to work and the family business has suffered. She sees grief counsellors and a psychiatrist.

Jacob Simmons had been planning to take over his father's farm and business. His father died from cancer just six weeks after Simmons' death. His family believes his broken heart hastened his death.

"His death came more quickly than any doctor had predicted," said Simmons. "The last weeks of his life were hell."

Father and son are buried together in the cemetery near the family's home.

Impaired drivers are killing other people's children — Brenda Simmons

Hearing all the facts of the case for the first time Tuesday, Brenda Simmons said she "was sickened and disgusted" by the amount of alcohol Hunter had consumed, and with her decision to leave the scene.

"Impaired driving has gone on far too long in this province, and our family are just the latest victims," she said. "Impaired drivers are killing other people's children."

The Crown recommended a six-year prison term. "The only hope is a significant sentence will deter others from making the same disastrous mistake and send a message about drinking and driving," said Crown attorney Nathan Beck.

Defence lawyer Thane MacEachern recommended a five-year sentence. "She will have to live with this for the rest of her life."

'There is no way I can make up for what I have done'

MacEachern said his client has struggled with mental health and substance abuse and hopes programming in prison will help address the underlying issues.

Hunter wept in court as she listened to the hurt and pain she caused.

Submitted by family
Submitted by family

Before she was sentenced, Hunter addressed the Simmons family, saying she wishes she could go back and change what happened.

"There is nothing I can say to how sorry I am. There is no way I can make up for what I have done," she said.

"Every moment of every day I am ashamed and disgusted by what I have done."

In passing sentence, Justice Gregory Cann said the fact that Hunter was twice the legal limit, didn't stop at the scene and had turned down an offer for a taxi that night were all aggravating factors.

He said, however, that her remorse seems genuine.

Family demands an end to drunk driving on P.E.I.

Cann said no sentence can heal the family's pain. He said a five-year sentence is in line with other recent cases on P.E.I.

Cann said it is important to keep Hunter off the road when she gets out of prison. He imposed a 15-year driving prohibition after she's released.

"I cannot replace the life of Jacob Simmons to a family that lost another life shortly after," said Cann.

"The biggest toll, the human cost, will continue long after I make this decision."

Outside court, Simmons' family said they're disappointed with the sentence.

"It's not a deterrent to preventing this kind of thing from happening again. We heard in court today a number of similar cases just over the last couple of years in Prince Edward Island," said Pat Ryan, Jacob Simmons' uncle.

"It's not something that's been getting better. It's getting worse."

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