The man who drove through a restaurant patio and killed a toddler testified Wednesday that he stepped on the wrong pedal while arguing with his wife.

Richard Suter testified at his sentencing hearing, the first time he has spoken publicly about the fatal crash that killed Geo Mounsef on May 19, 2013. He has pleaded guilty for refusing to provide a breath sample to police.

That day, Suter said he drank two shots of vodka with orange juice in the afternoon at home, then part of a pint of beer at a south Edmonton Chili’s. Then he drove with his wife to Ric’s Grill, the scene of the crash. He testified he was not too impaired to drive at the time.

He and his wife argued as they arrived in the parking lot and Suter’s wife shocked him by saying she wanted a divorce. She then screamed the SUV was rolling forward.

“I panicked and I hit the gas pedal instead of the brake,” he said. “Away we went into the patio. The car lurched forward into the patio and the people. I was stunned at that point. I couldn’t believe what happened.”

Suter said he initially couldn’t back up because the car stalled. After he backed up off the child, he was pulled from his vehicle. “I was grabbed, thrown to the ground and kicked and kicked and kicked. I was slapped and struck on the back of my head. I knew I’d done something terrible. I didn’t try to defend myself.”

According to an agreed statement of facts, Geo Mounsef’s parents both shoved Suter in the parking lot. The boy’s mother slapped him.

Suter said the scene was chaotic and he was dazed. He said police seemed angry at him. “They were looking at me like I was a monster and I can’t blame them. I made a mess out of that patio.”

Later, at a police station, Suter said he felt “so bloody awful” when told Geo Mounsef had died. He told court he refused to provide a breath sample because a lawyer instructed him over the phone not to do so. He didn’t trust the police, he said, because of their “gruff” attitude. He denied that he was drunk.

Suter testified that he was previously a social drinker and did not drive if he was impaired, either getting another driver or a taxi.

Weeks before the crash, Suter’s doctor told him to cut back on his drinking after a disappointing holiday and problematic home renovations put him under stress.

Suter also told court his and his wife’s vehicle was struck by a drunk driver in 1976. Both were hospitalized in intensive care. Suter said he still suffers difficulties walking today.

“My left leg was pretty much smashed up. It was pretty bad. I still have a significant limp and sway. It’s pretty painful sometimes.”

The hearing has already heard numerous witnesses testify Suter was unsteady on his feet after the crash, which they believed indicated he was drunk. Suter testified he was wobbly and dishevelled because of being pulled from his vehicle and beaten.

Suter said the previous crash in 1976 made him a good driver. “I think we learned a lesson in the crash we had. I was a very careful driver.”

Geo Mounsef died in hospital shortly after the crash. His mother and father suffered injuries, as did his five-month-old brother.

Defence lawyer Dino Bottos took Suter through the night of Jan. 27, 2015, when he was abducted from his home by masked men posing as EPS officers. Suter was handcuffed and blindfolded after he answered his door around 11 p.m., he testified. The masked men told him the abduction was a direct result of Geo Mounsef’s death, then drove him to a secluded area in the city and ordered him to his knees in the snow in his bathrobe.

“Someone started to cut off my thumb and it hurt like Hell.” Suter said the men started with one tool and finished the job with a pair of shears. He passed out, woke up alone and flagged down passing traffic for help.

As his testimony concluded, Suter read a note he’d written for Geo Mounsef’s family, several of whom walked out before he read it.

“I will always mourn the loss of your son,” he said. “I have done a great harm to your family and will always be terribly sorry for what I did. I was not impaired. I made a driving error. Please forgive me.”

The sentencing hearing continues.

Source: Edmonton Journal


Last updated on: 2015-10-30 | Link to this post