Vengeance and anger should never guide a prison sentence. Still, a three-year sentence for the killing of four teenage football players and the injuring of a fifth in a fatal crash in Grande Prairie, Alta., is too lenient. It fails to send a strong enough message of denunciation and deterrence about the perils of drinking and driving.
Justice W.A. Tilleman said he felt obliged to accept the joint submission for three years from the Crown and the defence. However, a four-year sentence for Brenden Holubowich, 23, would still have been within the “normal” range for the crime of dangerous driving. That would at least have amounted to one year for each teenager who was killed. This way, as one of the mothers noted, it is just nine months, the length of time she carried her son in her womb.
In exchange for his plea of guilty to five counts of dangerous driving, 11 other charges against Mr. Holubowich were dropped, most of them for impaired driving. He admitted he had been drinking on Oct. 21, 2011, the night of the crash, but the court didn’t hear his blood alcohol level.
Mr. Holubowich was genuinely remorseful and has no criminal record. And the case against the apprentice mechanic had weaknesses. The car carrying the five members of a high-school football team had just made a U-turn on the highway to go in the opposite direction when he crashed into it.
However, the horrifying circumstances moved even the judge to tears. Mr. Holubowich was driving his pick-up truck 151 kilometres an hour in an 80 zone. The car was so mangled that the first responders believed there were only three people in it because two of the teenagers had been flung so far into the bush. Their families have all been utterly devastated; the car’s only survivor, Zach Judd, has contemplated suicide.
Moreover, Mr. Holubowich fled the scene, was arrested an hour later and had his blood alcohol tested hours later. That meant the Crown could not prove impairment at the time of the crash. If the judge really wanted to signal his zero-tolerance of drunk driving, a stiffer sentence would still be in proportion with the crime. This was a lost opportunity.