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Tobin warns of drunk driving ‘nightmare’ in court

Jack Tobin, his voice cracking, issued an emotional admission of guilt, shame and remorse in an Ottawa courtroom Friday for his role in the death of a close friend last Christmas Eve.

The son of former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin pleaded guilty in May to impaired driving causing death. Alex Zolpis was pinned under a pickup truck during drunken hijinks in a downtown parking lot.

"I truly wish I had been the only victim of my actions that night and not Alex," the 24-year-old Mr. Tobin told his sentencing hearing.

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He addressed Mr. Zolpis's tear-streaked parents, sister and girlfriend by name, saying "how truly sorry and utterly ashamed I am for the unforgivable mistakes I made."

He ended his short statement with a sad caution: "If there's any good to come from this very, very dark cloud, I hope that it will be this message to others: the consequences of drinking and driving are deadly, they are real, they are enduring — a nightmare from which you never wake up."

But a "wake-up call" is exactly what prosecutor Mark Moors said is needed in this case, citing evidence of previous reckless acts behind the wheel and excessive alcohol consumption by Mr. Tobin.

Written testimony included an earlier account of Mr. Tobin doing doughnuts in a Newfoundland parking lot with a friend clinging to the outside of the SUV and being tossed to the ground, unharmed. He also registered a blood alcohol level exactly on the permissible .08 level after being pulled over by police for spinning his car tires in the early morning hours of August 2009 in a village south of Ottawa.

Mr. Moors said given Mr. Tobin's history, the tragedy of Christmas Eve "in some respects ... did not come as a complete surprise."

"This is the type of behaviour that has to be denounced," the Crown attorney said.

Mr. Tobin's lawyer, Norm Boxall, argued that his client's immediate acceptance of responsibility, his remorse, the lifelong shame of killing a close friend and the relentless glare of the media spotlight brought on by his famous family name are all factors that Judge Lise Maisonneuve should consider in sentencing.

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"I recognize Mr. Tobin's previous driving record. It is a fact you can consider," he told the judge.

"It is important to have a message to the community, but that message can be delivered in different ways ... not by a mathematical number (of years behind bars)."

How best to deliver a public warning about the horrific drunk-driving tragedy is at the heart of the judge's sentencing decision.

The defence has suggested a sentence of between 18 and 30 months, while prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison sentence and a 10-year driving ban.

Citing the multitude of factors raised by the defence and prosecution, Judge Maisonneuve put off her decision until Aug. 31.

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