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Junction mechanic receives stiffer sentence

The Crown almost got what it wanted in the case of a Haines Junction mechanic who was involved in a collision that killed a local artist.

The Crown almost got what it wanted in the case of a Haines Junction mechanic who was involved in a collision that killed a local artist.

Martin Biondelli was given three months jail time in an appeal decision handed down by Yukon Supreme Court this week.

But the tow-truck driver won’t spend time in a cell, which is what the Crown sought.

Instead, he’ll serve his time in the community.

The incident dates back to January 2004.

Biondelli was driving along the Rabbit’s Foot Canyon portion of the Alaska Highway just south of Whitehorse’s Porter Creek subdivision.

Roads were icy that day and his trailer came unhitched and crashed into Dereen Hildebrand’s oncoming minivan.

The decision, written by Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale, overturned the ruling of trial judge Dennis Overend, who was visiting from BC.

A main reason Veale disagreed with the original ruling was because Overend did put enough weight on deterrence and denunciation.

Judges have to take these two principles into account when structuring a person’s punishment, said Veale.

Deterrence means preventing the convict from committing a similar offence. Also, the punishment becomes a reason for other people not to commit a crime.

Denunciation means the punishment must reflect society’s disapproval of the crime.

The trial ruling was wrong, in part, because Overend didn’t consider deterrence an important factor in Biondelli’s case, said Veale.

 Overend also gave “little or no weight” to denunciation, he said in a hearing Thursday morning.

Biondelli’s case also differs from many other careless driving cases, said Veale.

“The conduct of Mr. Biondelli can’t be described simply as a momentary lapse of attention,” he said.

Biondelli decided to hitch an un-roadworthy trailer onto his vehicle and drive for two hours on a highway in winter conditions, he told the court.

As a result Biondelli was handed a three-month conditional sentence on top of the $1,000 fine.

Now, Biondelli is under house arrest and has to abide by a variety of strict rules.

These include answering all phone calls, always coming to the door, and leaving home only for specific reasons approved in writing, such as medical appointments and religious services.

Biondelli is allowed leave the house to work, and to grocery shop for one hour a week.

A tow-truck driver and an oil transporter, his work hours are broad, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and whenever there are additional calls.

If Biondelli breaks any of the conditions of his sentence, he could end up in jail.

Biondelli was charged with careless driving and operating a trailer without proper brakes.

Both of these offences fall under the territorial Motor Vehicles Act, which carries softer penalties than Criminal Code offences.

Careless driving carries less blame and lower punishment than dangerous driving, and should not be equated with it, said Veale.

Throughout the proceeding, Biondelli’s lawyer, Andre Roothman, has asserted the Crown was trying to get a tougher sentence than the crime deserves.

“(It’s like) looking for a sentence for murder to be imposed on an assault case,” he said in court earlier this month.

Would the Crown have pursued the case the same way if the deceased had been an unknown, homeless person, Roothman asked the court.

In a small community, the loss of a single member is significant, said Crown prosecutor Lee Kirkpatrick.

Hildebrand was a much-loved local artist.

The trial judge didn’t understand the impact of the loss, Kirkpatrick said in court last week.

“This court is better placed to assess the impact,” she said.

Veale agreed that Hildebrand’s death should be considered in the sentence.

Biondelli’s choice to haul an overloaded trailer, with brakes that didn’t work, for two hours on winter roads was “careless in the extreme,” Veale told the court.

“Her death was the consequence of (Biondelli’s) carelessness and adds to his moral culpability.”

Roothman said he’s satisfied with the outcome.

“My client and I are happy with the outcome of the appeal,” he said in a phone interview yesterday.

“It’s hopefully the end of this whole saga that’s now continued for two years, and my client would like to get on with his life.”

On a broader scale, the decision is a powerful reminder to Yukoners about safe-driving practices, said Roothman.

“This matter should serve as a deterrent to other people out there,” he said.

“To all of us in the general public, especially in winter conditions, one needs to be extremely careful of the roadworthiness of your vehicle.”

The Crown could not be reached for comment.

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