The Quebec City driver who killed two children, their mother and their grandfather last fall when his car crashed into theirs has been sentenced to 16 years in prison — the harshest sentence ever handed out by a Quebec court for a crime committed under similar circumstances.
Éric Légaré, 44, was under the influence of alcohol and speeding when the vehicle he was driving crashed into three other vehicles waiting for a left-turn signal at an intersection in Beauport, Que., on Sept. 2, 2021.
Emma Lemieux, 10, her half-brother Jackson Fortin, 14, their mother, Shellie Fletcher-Lemieux, 44, and grandfather, James Fletcher, 68, all died of injuries sustained in the collision.
"It's not a question here of determining the cost of a life," said Quebec court Judge Jean-Louis Lemay at Légaré's sentencing hearing in a Quebec City courtroom Friday.
Lemay said his job was to determine a just sentence based on objective facts, the law and legal precedence. He said it is important to match the severity of a sentence to society's evolving view of the act of driving under the influence.
"It falls on courts to use tools provided by Parliament to attack this societal evil," Lemay said in his ruling.
Sending dissuasive message
The Crown had sought an 18- to 20-year prison term for Légaré and a lifelong driving ban, but prosecutor Pierre-Alexandre Bernard said he was "not disappointed at all" with the 16-year sentence — the longest ever meted out for similar crimes under similar circumstances.
Another Quebecer, Roger Walsh, did get a life sentence for the hit-and-run death of Anee Khudaverdian while driving under the influence in 2008, however Walsh had had 19 previous drunk-driving convictions and a long list of other criminal offences.
By comparison, Légaré had a single prior conviction for driving under the influence, in 2017.
Bernard said he hoped Légaré's sentence would send "a clear message to anyone who tries, and who commits those kinds of offences, that those offences are not tolerated in our society."
Defence calls sentence 'adequate'
Légaré's lawyer, Vincent Montminy, said he found the sentence reasonable, even though it's significantly higher than the 10 years he had sought.
"I consider it's a judgment that's adequate," he said.
Montminy, who spoke to Légaré after the ruling, said his client is devastated but will not seek leave to appeal the sentence.
"He didn't fall off his chair. He knew that he was in that ballpark, for sure."
During his trial testimony, Légaré had burst into tears and expressed his remorse to the victims' families, saying he had regular nightmares about what he had done.
He admitted to drinking and smoking weed more frequently in the months before the crash because of difficulties in his personal life.
The courtroom was packed for the sentencing hearing, with relatives of the victims and of the convicted man waiting attentively.
Jean-Dominic Lemieux, Emma's father and Shellie's husband of nine years, was notably absent.
Jackson's father, Daniel Fortin, said he squeezed the hands of his two friends very hard when the judge announced his decision. He said he's left relieved and somewhat satisfied with the strong message the harsh sentence sends.
"I think it's a good step," he said.
While he said no sentence could alleviate the pain of losing his child, he felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders with the end of the legal proceedings.
"It's a little bandage on the wound," he said. "We'll be able to start grieving."