Dec 24, 2012 - DEADLY CHOICES: Killer Drivers Must Pay Heavy Price Says Mother of Victim (Tyson & Colton's case)

The mother of two young children sobbed uncontrollably. One by one, survivors of the two teenagers she killed told a crowded courtroom how her actions had destroyed their lives.

Months earlier, at about 2:30 a.m. on March 31, April Gail Beauclair rose from a bed made up for her to sleep off the effects of a night spent celebrating her upcoming 30th birthday.

She got into her car, picked up a cup of coffee for the road home on her way out of Sylvan Lake and headed down Hwy 11A to Lacombe, where she lived with her two children.

She didn’t make it.

Defence counsel Norman Clair told court that his client didn’t remember seeing the two boys pushing a disabled car along the side of the road, about five km west of Red Deer.

Its engine flooded and the battery did not have enough juice to turn the starter. The driver and two passengers were trying to get it push-started when Beauclair’s car slammed into its back end.

Colton Keeler, 19, was killed at the scene. Tyson Vanderzwaag died six days later of his injuries. He had just turned 18.

Three other people suffered injuries, including the designated driver who had come to Sylvan Lake to bring them back to their Red Deer homes.

Beauclair was sentenced to three and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of impaired driving causing death and three counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

It was a similar sentence to that given to Sedalia resident Chad Mitchell Olsen, convicted in the February 2010 deaths of Red Deer couple Brad and Krista Howe, parents of five children.

Red Deer Judge Thomas Schollie, who was on the bench in both cases, originally sentenced Olsen to two and a half years in prison with a mandatory driving prohibition to take effect upon his release.

Olsen had already been released on parole earlier this year when the Alberta Court of Appeals raised the prison sentence to three and a half years. In effect, the decision would add a year to the time he has left on parole.

In passing sentence on Beauclair, Schollie heard a recommendation from Crown prosecutor Maurice Collard, who argued for a five-year prison term. Collard cited the Olsen sentence as a precedent, along with considerably longer sentences passed in Ontario and New Brunswick.

Schollie remarked that Beauclair’s early guilty plea and obvious remorse were factors in her favour as he read her sentence.

However, he said it seems “hopeless, useless and ridiculous” to “hammer someone with a long sentence” only to see that person walk out of prison weeks or months later, well before the entire sentence is served.

Officials with the Alberta Driver’s Control Board also decreed that Beauclair would be prohibited from driving for at least five years following her release from prison — more than double the two-year prohibition Schollie had previously ordered.

Judge Bert Skinner, assistant chief judge responsible for the Central Alberta region, said judges have a limited amount of discretion in the sentences they deliver for the criminal charge of impaired driving.

Minimum driving suspensions and fines start at $1,000 and a one-year suspension for a first offence.

The sentencing choices are determined by the circumstances, including the level of alcohol recorded in the accused driver’s blood and the circumstances under which the charge was laid.

The penalties available to the courts increase dramatically if the driver’s alcohol readings are more than twice the legal limit of .08 per cent and if there is a collision involved, says Skinner.

Prosecutors deciding how to proceed with charges and judges responsible for sentencing the offenders look also at the location of the offence, the time of day, traffic levels and circumstances under which the arrest was made, says Skinner.

Potentially aggravating factors include the offender’s previous history and circumstances of the arrest, such as whether the charges arose from a collision and whether other people were injured or killed.

Judges also weigh factors in an offending driver’s favour, including an early guilty plea and the recognition and understanding of the scope of the offence as well as the harm done.

A suspended sentence may be offered for a first offender who is not involved in a collision and actively seeks help for alcohol addiction, says Skinner.

The requirements made as part of a suspended sentence, including a residential treatment program, are as stringent as if the offender were placed on probation or given a jail term, he says.

At the other end of the spectrum, prison terms are available for repeat offenders and for drivers involved in collisions — especially if someone dies.

While a provincial court judge may wish to impose a lengthy sentence, the Alberta Court of Appeals can and does make adjustments to sentences that do not fit precedents, says Skinner.

Sentencing principles laid out in the Criminal Code of Canada state that the sentence must fit the crime and that it must fall in line with sentences passed in similar circumstances, he says.

Prison sentences aside, most drivers convicted of impaired driving or its provincial equivalent seem unaware of the impact the offence will have on their lives, long after they have paid fines, served whatever sentence may have been pronounced and completed their suspension, says Skinner.

Alberta’s Driver’s Control Board does not automatically return a suspended licence, he says. Offending drivers must jump through a series of hoops to get their licences back. There are no guarantees that the privileges they enjoyed before being convicted will be reinstated after the period of suspension is completed.

Even after their licences are returned, drivers will find that their insurance rates have skyrocketed and that they will bear the restrictions imposed on all people who have criminal records.

Victims of crime are invited to rise in court and tell how they were affected during the sentencing process. Some people read their own victim impact statements. The Crown prosecutor will read the statements on behalf of those who are too distraught to read their own statements, or who cannot attend court on that day.

Numerous family and friends of Colton Keeler and Tyson Vanderzwaag prepared statements to talk about the nightmares they were left with after the two Red Deer youths, aged 19 and 17 at the time of the crash, were killed by a drunk driver. Keeler, 19, died at the scene. Vanderzwaag died six days later of his injuries, one day after his 18th birthday.

Lacombe mother April Gail Beauclair, 29 at the time of the crash, was sentenced in Red Deer provincial court on Oct. 11 to a prison term of three and a half years with a five-year driving prohibition to start upon her release.

These are some of the words she heard in court on that day. Some read their own statements into the record. Others were read by Crown prosecutor Maurice Collard:

• Colton’s mother, Brandee Keeler: “I am completely devastated. It’s been four months since I wrote (the statement) and it has not gotten better. What’s left of my family has fallen apart because I don’t know how to deal with this terrible loss.”

• Colton’s father, Darren Keeler: “I’ve lost my child. I’ve lost a best friend and a lifelong companion. My heart is broken. I cry constantly.”

• Colton’s brother, Chandler Keeler, 14 (read by Collard): “The death of my brother has greatly changed me.”

• Colton’s brother, Gordon Keeler, 13 (read by Collard): “It has become a lot harder, just to do normal things. I have one less brother and life will never be the same.”

• Tyson’s mother, Wendy Vanderzwaag (read by Collard): “My one and only son and best friend has been taken from me because of someone else’s actions. This has left me with a heartbreak I never thought was possible.”

• Tyson’s grandmother, Delores Vanderzwaag: “I think of Tyson throughout each day. He was my arms and my legs. How can we go on living with broken hearts?”

• Tyson’s girlfriend, Paulina Kerik: “It breaks my heart not to see him. I can’t stop crying. Every part of me was torn away when he took his last breath. There are no words to describe the heartache of seeing someone you love so much lying there in so much pain. She took everything from me that evening and I still can’t catch my breath.”


The aftermath of a crash that claimed the lives of Colton Keeler and Tyson Vanderzwaag.


Source: The Red Deer Advocate

Last updated on: 2012-12-24 | Link to this post