Laurel and Michael Middelaer sat with hands tightly clasped in front of them in the crowded courtroom, waiting for the judge to hand down his sentence.
They looked stunned when he did: 2½ years behind bars for Carol Berner, for impaired and dangerous driving that led to the death of their four-year-old daughter Alexa.
In an emotional case that inspired a provincewide crackdown on drunk driving, Provincial Court Judge Peder Gulbransen said in his ruling Friday that he hoped people inside and outside the courtroom heed the message conveyed by the account of the fatality's devastating impact on the Middelaer family. Ms. Berner's lawyer Jason Tarnow, meanwhile, said he intended to file an appeal of the verdict and sentencing on Monday.
But for the parents of the victim, the sentence was not harsh enough. While saying she had "empathy" for Ms. Berner and her family, Ms. Middelaer said she has always been more concerned about the bigger issue of drunk driving and light sentences handed out by the courts in cases of drunk driving causing death.
"If there is a reason to change [the law] Alexa is the reason," she said as she struggled through tears. Ms. Middelaer said she hoped this case will be "the tipping point" in a campaign for minimum sentences for drunk driving and for tougher sentences.
Mr. Middelaer said he did not think Ms. Berner's sentence was a deterrent. He said he would like to see a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.
The judge said the sentence reflected the particular details of the offence and the offender. He added that drunk driving causing death was one of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code. He believed Ms. Berner was remorseful about what she had done and was unlikely to re-offend. She did not flee the scene and has not been involved in any other criminal activity.
He sentenced her to 2½ years on each of four charges of dangerous and impaired driving, causing death and serious injuries, with the time to be served concurrently. Immediately after sentencing, two sheriffs approached her and took her into custody.
Mr. Tarnow's father David, who also represented Ms. Berner, said she told family members that she loved them as she was being taken out of the courtroom. The message of this case for those outside the courtroom is to not drink and drive, he added.
"Be careful when you go out for a drink tonight. Take a taxi or take the SkyTrain home," Mr. Tarnow said.
On May 17, 2008, Ms. Berner, 58, slammed into a parked car and then veered into Alexa and her aunt. Ms. Berner was travelling at 91 kilometres an hour in a 50-km/h zone on a road with speed bumps.
She lost control of the car as she sped over the bumps, then stepped on the gas instead of the brake. Alexa was standing by the road with her aunt, feeding a horse.
During the 16-day trial, the court heard that Ms. Berner told undercover police officers she had drunk three glasses of wine before getting behind the wheel. Three hours after the crash, she provided breath samples at the police station of .06 per cent and .04 per cent.
Ms. Berner, a single mother of three, said in a statement to the court that she no longer drinks alcohol and has stopped driving.
Crown prosecutor Kimberly Wendel recommended three to five years in prison, to be served concurrently, on each of the four counts.
B.C. had 101 fatalities resulting from alcohol-related crashes in 2008, according to the most recent statistics available from ICBC, the government insurance company.
A B.C. government crackdown on drunk driving this fall, inspired by Alexa's death, has led to a sharp rise in roadside suspensions of driver's licences and impounding vehicles when breath samples are over .05. The legal limit for drunk driving charges remains .08.
Ms. Berner's sentence was in line with recent rulings in B.C.
In May, Andrew Peel was sentenced to five years in jail after he was convicted of impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm. He crossed the line and collided head-on with a Ford Explorer. Brenda Good, a mother of four, died in the car crash. Others in the car were injured. Mr. Peel's blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit, and he had been convicted of drunk driving in two additional instances.