Steven Theriault was sentenced Thursday to six-and-a-half years in prison for crashing a car down Highway 3 in an incident that left one person dead and others seriously injured.
His punishment will also forbid him to ever drive a motor vehicle again.
On April 22, 2020, Theriault, along with four passengers, were driving south down Highway 3 between Edzo and Fort Providence. Theriault and his passengers had been partying for the previous two days and were drinking vodka along the drive. The offender also admitted to having smoked crack cocaine that morning, though he denies he was impaired at the time of the crash.
Before Theriault lost control, the car was noted to be travelling 192 km/h down the highway, almost double the 100 km/h speed limit. The car drifted right when Theriault took his eyes off the road to look at the woman sitting in the passenger seat. The vehicle flipped and landed on its roof 120 metres off the highway.
The airbags deployed and the vehicle sustained serious damage. Theriault kicked out the window and fled. He and passenger Cory Sarasin hitchhiked back to Edzo, leaving the victims at the scene.
Son builds a cross
Once first responders arrived, two victims were still trapped in the car. Florriane Rabesca, 21, was pronounced dead on scene. Another woman sustained serious injuries, including a broken neck and cracked pelvis. She would have to be transported to an Alberta hospital for care and would have to spend her two-week Covid isolation period in a wheelchair once re-entering the territory.
She later transitioned to crutches and though her physical injuries are now mostly healed, the court heard that she continues to experience pain when she overworks.
Seven victim impact statements were filed to express the dramatic effects of the incident.
Rabesca’s parents told the court of their grief since losing their daughter. Her father, Tony Rabesca, recounted a recent story of her daughter’s five-year old son – now in his grandparents’ care – playing with Lego. The boy made a cross to put by his mother’s photo.
“He brightens us everyday,” Tony said.
Theriault ‘Should have known better’: Crown
At the time of the offence, Theriault did not have a valid driver’s licence. He has more than 30 prior convictions on his criminal record, including two for dangerous driving.
“He should have known better,” Crown Prosecutor Angie Paquin said. “He should have learned a lesson.”
Paquin noted that, when Theriault, 45, was asked if either his consumption of alcohol and drugs or the speed of the vehicle were a factor in losing control of the vehicle, he said they were not.
Theriault instead blames poor driving conditions for the crash.
Paquin told the court that April 22 was a sunny day and the roads were dry.
“Clearly he’s remorseful of the death but it’s unclear if he’s remorseful of the high-risk behaviour he engaged in that day,” the Crown prosecutor said.
After failing to remain at the scene, RCMP issued a press release seeking public assistance in locating Theriault. They received information that he was receiving care at a hospital in Alberta. He could not be arrested, however, because of his condition at the time. Theriault left the hospital days later acting against medical advice.
RCMP issued a second press release and a tracking warrant. Theriault was located and arrested on June 2, 2020.
In delivering her sentence, Justice Shannon Smallwood acknowledged that nothing she says could bring back a lost loved one or reverse the damage of the incident itself. Nevertheless, she said she’s tasked with imposing a fair and balanced sentence, knowing it will appear inadequate to some.
She noted that the maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death and failure to stop at the scene is life in prison. The penalty was increased in 2018 when the Criminal Code was amended – a change that Smallwood said demonstrates the seriousness of the offence.
For dangerous driving causing death, Smallwood sentenced Theriault to five-and-a-half years in prison. He was ordered to serve another year in custody for failing to stop at the scene.
After deducting Theriault’s credit for pre-trial custody, he has four years and three months left to serve.
On top of his custodial sentence, Theriault is barred from operating a motor vehicle for life.
“Driving is a privilege, not a right,” the judge said. In addition to keeping Theriault off the road in the interest of public safety, “he has repeatedly demonstrated he does not deserve the privilege.”