A Haines Junction car mechanic whose overloaded trailer contributed to the death of a beloved local artist got off too lightly, according to Crown prosecutors appealing the decision.
And the BC judge who heard the case did not understand the impact Dereen Hildebrand’s death had on the community, said Crown prosecutor Lee Kirkpatrick in a submission to Yukon Supreme Court.
In January 2004, Martin Biondelli’s trailer came unhitched in Rabbit’s Foot Canyon just south of Whitehorse’s Porter Creek subdivision.
The trailer crashed into Hildebrand’s oncoming minivan, killing her.
Visiting BC judge Dennis Overend handed Biondelli a $1,000 fine and put him on six months probation. He also restricted his driving privileges.
In a community this small, the loss of a single person is significant, said Kirkpatrick.
“This court is better placed to assess the impact,” she said.
Overend’s decision also failed to reflect the circumstances of the fatal crash, according to Kirkpatrick’s appeal.
The Crown wants jail time, federal lawyers told Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale.
“The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to enhance the protection of society,” said Kirkpatrick.
Jail isn’t the answer, said Biondelli’s lawyer Andre Roothman.
That type of sentence would be like a hunter stalking a bison with a .22-calibre rifle, he said.
“When he’s in the bush he realizes this isn’t going to do it,” said Roothman.
So the hunter is either left to find a bigger gun or be content shooting pigeons, he said.
The Crown has pursued Biondelli on the lesser crime of careless driving, under the territorial Motor Vehicles Act, and not the more serious Criminal Code offence of dangerous driving.
Even so, it is trying to pin a tougher sentence on Biondelli than the crime merits, said Roothman.
“(It’s like) looking for a sentence for murder to be imposed on an assault case,” he said.
A discussion about conditional sentences was spurred by the Crown’s demand Biondelli serve four months behind bars.
A conditional sentence is considered a jail-term, but the person can serve it in the community. It often involves house arrest or a strict curfew, with exceptions for essential activities, like medical appointments, grocery shopping and, sometimes, work.
Biondelli should not be given a conditional sentence for two reasons, said Kirkpatrick.
The first is deterrence —strict punishments could force a person to think twice before breaking the law, and the second is denunciation — punishing a crime in a way that reflects society’s disapproval of the action.
Careless driving is a common crime, even among moms and dads, said Kirkpatrick.
They may not take the risk if there is a strong punishment.
She compared Biondelli’s case with a driver who hit and killed a pedestrian.
“This is exactly the case of Dereen Hildebrand, who was in the correct lane of travel and is blameless,” said Kirkpatrick.
The punishment sought by the Crown is overblown, said Roothman.
After two or three offences, it may be appropriate to send someone to jail for careless driving, he said.
However, it’s not founded to incarcerate Biondelli after one offence, and the trailer crash does not qualify as the worst case of careless driving, said Roothman.
If the court decides to hear the appeal and impose jail-time, Roothman said it should be a conditional sentence with an exception for driving due to Biondelli’s line of work.
A mechanic by trade, Biondelli drives a tow-truck and delivers oil in winter months.
A conditional sentence also carries a significant stigma in a small community, said Roothman.
“Everybody keeps an eye on you,” he said.
Roothman also questioned the Crown’s approach.
Would it have pursued the case the same way if the victim had been an “unknown homeless person,” he asked.
Based on information Roothman had presented in court, Veale said all parties need to be considered in sentencing.
“The victim, the community and the offender are all part of the package,” he said.
Biondelli sat silently throughout the hearing, often looking down at the pages in a red binder.
Veal’s decision on whether to hear the appeal is scheduled to come down on February 23.