After losing an appeal of his nine-year sentence for a deadly drunk driving crash, Brian Okemahwasin insisted he still needs to set the record straight and may head to a higher court.

“I just took off at the wrong time,” he told the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal on Thursday, describing the crash that claimed the life of an elderly Regina man almost two years ago to the day. “I wasn’t looking for a lesser sentence. I just didn’t want to sound like a monster,” added Okemahwasin.

During his submissions, several times — seemingly struggling for words — Okemahwasin alluded to his treatment and abuse in an Indian residential school as a child.

“I’m not trying to sound like a victim here … Being 10 years old, who do I go to? How do you tell someone that?” he said. “My life was ruined. It was taken … Alcohol was the only ah — ,” he said, his voice trailing off.

On June 8, 2014, Garry Tatham left home early that Sunday morning to go wash his wife’s car. Around 7 a.m., he was stopped at a red light on Albert Street at 6th Avenue North when a Ford F-150 driven by Okemahwasin slammed into the rear of the car. The then 41-year-old Saskatoon man had been spotted driving recklessly on Highway 11 earlier that morning.

Investigators believe Okemahwasin was speeding at 94 km/h — almost twice the speed limit — when he crashed. Tatham, 72, died at the scene. In a victim impact statement last year, Heather, his wife of 37 years, described him as “my very best friend … my lifeline.”

Okemahwasin’s blood-alcohol level was more than 3 1/2 times the legal limit.

In May 2015, Regina Provincial Court Judge Jeff Kalmakoff sentenced Okemahwasin to nine years in prison after he pleaded guilty to impaired and dangerous driving causing death. With credit for time already served, seven years and seven months remained on the sentence.

Okemahwasin, acting without a lawyer, stressed that he remains “very sorry” for the crash and its outcome. “There’s not enough words to express the misery I have inflicted,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m not proud my life goes on.”

He admitted he rear-ended Tatham’s vehicle and wasn’t trying to justify his actions, but took issue with some of the details of what occurred. 

Crown prosecutor Andrew Davis said Kalmakoff had carefully considered the offender’s background, “but his moral culpability remained very high.” He said Okemahwasin had 25 years of alcohol-fuelled involvment in the criminal justice system and had failed to engage meaningfully in his own rehabilitation.

Okemahwasin said he tried “dry-out centres.”

“People say that I never tried to help myself. That’s their point of view,” he said. “I’ve tried to help myself many times.”

“If it wasn’t for residential school and alcohol, I think my character would be a whole lot different,” he said.

Calling the offences “very serious,” Chief Justice Robert Richards, Georgina Jackson and Maurice Herauf unanimously rejected Okemahwasin’s sentence appeal.

“We’ve looked at (Kalmakoff’s) reasons carefully. He did a very thorough job of looking at the factors that were relevant to an appropriate sentence, including the difficult circumstances involved in your … personal, First Nations background. He also took into account the unfortunate reality, sir, that you’ve been convicted of 200 offences (including) four drinking and driving offences and two driving while disqualified offences,” he said. “We’re simply not persuaded that was an unfit sentence.” 

After the court’s decision, Okemahwasin asked about going to the Supreme Court, reiterating that his goal is to make clear the circumstances of the crash as he recalls them — that he wasn’t speeding, that traffic was backed up. 

In sentencing submissions last year, the prosecutor said the crash was so severe, the impact thrust the rear end of the car so far forward, it touched the front seat, where Tatham sat.

Source: Leader Post


Last updated on: 2016-07-04 | Link to this post