The sentencing had to be moved into a larger courtroom to make space for grieving members of the Ross River community, still coping with the sudden drowning of a 16-year-old girl.
It was supposed to be in Ross River earlier in the week, but weather kept court officials from getting there.
So family members drove about 400 km to Whitehorse for the Friday afternoon hearing. Some wanted a judge to hear about their loss.
Katelyn Sterriah was 16. She wanted to learn to play the guitar and the drums.
She died in 2012, a passenger in a truck that drove off the end of a dirt road and into the Pelly River.
Four people escaped, but Sterriah drowned.
On Friday, the driver, 25-year-old David Magill, was sentenced to 25 months in jail after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death and obstruction of justice. He originally lied to the police about what happened.
The group had been drinking that day when Magill got behind the wheel around 6 a.m.
He was driving recklessly and fast on the dirt road, prosecutor Keith Parkkari said.
When one passenger yelled to stop, Magill slammed on the brakes. The truck slid passed the end of the road. After going into the water, the current pulled it even deeper.
The surviving group originally told police it was one of the teenagers who had been driving the truck, not Magill.
They were concerned for Magill because he had a young child, Parkkari said.
A friend of Sterriah’s was arrested and charged. She would spend four days in custody before the real story came out.
In a statement read in court, Sterriah’s older sister Victoria called her “the cutest child, transforming right before my eyes into a beautiful young lady.”
The family had a grieving gathering and Magill was there, the sister wrote.
“He acted as if he’d done nothing wrong.”
Like many of the people who spoke that afternoon, she expressed frustration over the lie that followed her sister’s death.
“How long were they planning to keep this a secret? Were they ever planning on telling the truth? How can they disrespect my family’s trust at this time?”
Michael Medcalfe described his daughter as a 16-year-old who touched the hearts of many.
“Where is my daughter Katelyn’s freedom to walk and talk and finish her life’s journey?” he said.
Before he was sentenced, Magill stood and spoke to the full courtroom. He apologized for what happened and for the lie after the fact.
“I’m not the kind of person who would lie,” he said. “I’m not sure what was going through my head at the time.”
The crowd in the courtroom represented both Magill’s and Sterriah’s family. One of Sterriah’s sisters has a daughter with Magill, the court heard.
Both the Crown and defence lawyers supported the 25-month sentence.
The sentence takes into consideration Sterriah’s death, Magill’s consumption of alcohol, and the fact that a minor spent four days in custody for a crime she did not commit, Parkkari said.
It also considers Magill’s young age, his lack of a criminal record, the guilty plea and his remorse.
“It’s not difficult to appreciate the devastation of Katelyn’s family,” Judge Karen Ruddy said.
There is nothing that the court can do to bring the young girl back, she said.
When a plea bargain has been reached, a judge can only change a deal if he or she believes the sentence goes against public interest or would bring the administration of justice into disrepute, she explained.
Plea bargains can only succeed if the accused believes that in most cases a judge will follow them.
Across the country, sentences for dangerous driving causing death range from a conditional sentence to two and a half years, she said.
With the time he has already served, Magill has 10 and a half months left in his 25-month sentence.
He will be on probation for two years after the fact and prohibited from driving for one year.
“In many ways it is beyond the power of court to make this better,” Ruddy said at the end of the day.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org