Man gets two years for drunk driving death

A Yukon judge sentenced a man to two years less a day for impaired driving causing death.

A Yukon judge sentenced a man to two years less a day for impaired driving causing death.

A tougher sentence would have resulted in an automatic deportation order for Christopher Maxwell-Smith, 27, effective after the jail term was completed. He is a citizen of the United Kingdom.

Under the current sentence, immigration officials may decide to allow him to stay in the country.

Maxwell-Smith was driving a Kia Sedona minivan with five passengers when he hit a patch of gravel and lost control of the vehicle.

The van rolled into the ditch, killing Valentino Vella who was thrown from the vehicle.

Vella was the only person in the van not wearing a seatbelt.

The group had gone for a few beers after work in Pelly Crossing on July 8, 2010, and then decided to drive to Carmacks for food and more drinks.

They were co-workers on a scaffolding crew. Maxwell-Smith was the supervisor.

Maxwell-Smith testified that he was distracted by his travelling companions momentarily when the van drifted onto the soft gravel shoulder of the highway. He overcorrected, crossing into the opposing lane, and the vehicle rolled.

He had ignored eight warning signs pointing to the upcoming construction zone.

Maxwell-Smith tried to perform CPR on Vella, but he was later declared dead at the scene.

According to evidence before the court, the van was travelling about 100 kilometres per hour when it left the highway, and faster before that. The speed limit in the construction zone was 70 kilometres per hour.

Maxwell-Smith admitted to having had three beers before driving, but said he did not feel impaired.

Breathalyzer results led experts to determine that Maxwell-Smith’s blood alcohol content was between 0.134 and 0.158 at the time of the crash, well above the legal limit of 0.08.

He also was driving with a B.C. learner’s licence, which restricted him from driving with more than two passengers or with any alcohol in his system.

Crown counsel asked for a sentence of four to 4.5 years, with an additional four months for offences related to failing to report to a bail officer and failing to appear in court.

Maxwell-Smith’s original trial date was delayed because he didn’t show up on the appointed day.

He eventually turned himself in to police in Ontario, and two Pelly Crossing RCMP retrieved him at a cost of $5,000.

Defence counsel argued that the sentence should be two years minus a day, given the mitigating factors of the case.

Maxwell-Smith had no prior criminal record or driving infractions.

He had a good upbringing, a good education, and a good work history, the court heard.

Defence tabled letters of support from family, friends and employers and noted that, aside from this incident, Maxwell-Smith has been a valuable contributing member of society.

He has a longtime girlfriend in Ontario, who continues to support him.

He wrote a letter to Vella’s mother while in custody, and she responded. Her reply expressed understanding, disappointment, fear, loss, and forgiveness, said defence counsel.

Maxwell-Smith has struggled with his responsibility for the death of a friend and co-worker, and has attended counselling sessions both while in custody and previously.

Judge Nancy Orr ultimately sided with the defence, imposing a sentence of two years minus a day, plus 18 months probation and a 10-year prohibition from driving.

She also ordered Maxwell-Smith to pay $5,000 in restitution to the Pelly Crossing RCMP for their expenses in retrieving him from Ontario.

The judge noted that she could have credited him with up to 11 months for time spent in custody, but credited him for none of it.

This allowed her to impose the longest possible sentence while still leaving the door open for immigration officials to decide whether or not he will be permitted to stay in Canada following his sentence.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com