It was not just an accident but a series of negligent choices that lead to the deaths of two people on the Alaska Highway in July 2020. This was one of the themes present through much of the Crown’s sentencing submissions for Devin Edmiston presented to Judge Gurmail Gill on May 17 and 18. Edmiston’s agency in causing the crash that killed both his passenger Nicole Sanderson and Whitehorse resident Travis Adams, who was riding his motorcycle at the time, also featured prominently in the numerous victim impact statements read to the court.
Edmiston was arrested and charged in June 2021, almost a year after the crash. He entered guilty pleas to two counts of dangerous operation of a conveyance causing death and one count of dangerous operation causing bodily harm in November 2022.
According to agreed statements of fact filed with the court, Edmiston, a Manitoba resident, was visiting family members of Sanderson, his girlfriend, at the time of the fatal collision. The facts presented to the court state that Edmiston pulled the vehicle he was driving into the oncoming lane in an attempt to overtake a vehicle being driven by members of Sanderson’s family. He struck that vehicle trying to return to the correct lane of travel setting in motion a collision that killed Adams instantly and fatally injured Sanderson. Edmiston’s other passenger was also severely injured in the collision.
Edmiston, who was 25 at the time of the crash, was not licensed to drive at the time and has never held a driver’s licence.
The opening day of the sentencing hearing in Yukon Territorial Court saw more than 20 people in the court gallery and more watching via videoconference.
The court dealt with some procedural matters prior to the presentation of sentencing submissions and victim impact statements. Gill curtly denied defence lawyer Kevin MacGillivray’s request for an adjournment based on what he says is a repudiation of the plea agreement by the Crown as well as a possible abuse of process but after hearing about it Gill said he found “no air of reality” in what the defence presented.
With that set aside, Crown counsel Noel Sinclair briefly outlined the sentence the crown seeks: four to six years of imprisonment for each of dangerous driving causing death charges and two or three years for the bodily harm to be served concurrently. This was immediately followed by the reading of 10 victim impact statements of the more than 30 filed with the court for the judge to consider.
These words from the man injured in the crash, Sanderson’s daughters who lost their mother and numerous friends and family members of Adams all impressed the immense loss caused in seconds on July 5, 2020.
The statements from the victims who survived the crash speak to lingering pain and loss of mobility as well as the lingering emotional trauma and the loss of Sanderson.
Jennifer DeHart, Adams’ wife, spoke to the hole in her family left by the loss of her husband and the father of her three children. She also told the court about the physical and mental toll caused by her husband’s death and the horror of the crash scene itself, where she and other members of the family arrived shortly after the collision.
“We cherished him, but we weren’t done yet,” she told the court.
Tara Larkin, Adams’ sister, also spoke of the loss and stressed how Edmiston’s actions could not be explained away as an accident or mistake.
She said that while she couldn’t forgive Edmiston yet, she knows her brother was the type of person who would try to understand, forgive and maybe even mentor Edmiston if he could.
DeHart, Larkin and others remarked on the pain caused by the ongoing court process, now nearly three years removed from the crash.
Edmiston, in court for both days of the sentencing hearing, wept and gasped as some of the impact statements were read. He spoke at the end of the first day of sentencing saying he is haunted by the thought of the loss he caused and that he recognizes that no words from him can ease the pain.
“I’m truly sorry and I know that probably doesn’t amount to much to you,” he said.
Sinclair said that Edmiston understands the gravity of his offence but also argued that some of what he had to say to the author of the pre-sentence report suggests he is “to some extent excusing himself for his deliberate choices.”
“The disregard for human life is the key sentencing factor in this case,” Sinclair said.
MacGillivray’s submissions largely dealt with setting Edmiston’s case apart from some past cases the Crown presented to justify the sentence it is requesting. He noted that in some of the cases presented the drivers who caused fatal crashes were grossly intoxicated while Edmiston was sober; in others the drivers fled the scene or even evaded the police for months while he said his client was cooperative with the investigation throughout.
The defence lawyer also spoke to Edmiston’s abusive upbringing and how it left him without the skills to fully participate in society. MacGillivray also spoke of the strides Edmiston has made: his loving relationship with Sanderson prior to her death, his compliance with the conditions he has been bound by since he was charged and his steady volunteer employment with an outreach group in the Manitoba town where he lives.
MacGillivray asked the judge to impose a two-year term penitentiary term followed by three years of probation. He asked for a three-year driving prohibition rather than the five sought by the Crown, citing the importance of giving Edmiston the best shot at finding a job in the future but noted that his client remains scared of vehicles in the aftermath of the collision.
Gill reserved his decision for a later date. Edmiston remains in custody ahead of the decision on sentencing.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com