Fort McMurray Provincial Court handed down a sentence to truck driver Tyrel Burton.
The truck driver from Grande Prairie, Alta., received two years for dangerous driving causing death, and one year for dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Burton will his sentence concurrently, and also receives a driving prohibition of three years.
Originally, Burton faced one count each of criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
However, he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of dangerous driving on June 3, 2019.
Burton appeared via closed-circuit feed from an Edmonton detention centre for sentencing.
Statement of facts
The agreed statement reads on Feb. 11, 2017, Tyrel Burton drove his tractor-trailer north on Highway 63 toward Fort McMurray.
Born and raised in Grande Prairie, Alta., Burton made his first trip into the city and, despite his 11 years of driving experience, he was unfamiliar with the region.
Burton’s vehicle was in good working order carrying a heavy load of two generators.
While looking for a road marker to his destination, Burton drove with excessive speed for a total of 59 seconds toward the intersection of Hwy. 63 and Mackenzie Blvd.
His vehicle approached speeds of 90 km/h, but the posted speed limit at that stretch of road is 70 km/h.
Meanwhile, at the intersection was a lineup of stopped vehicles waiting at a red light.
In the lineup was 65-year-old David Caldwell, who was the lone occupant in a red Dodge pickup truck with a trailer attached.
Also, 16-year-old Marisa Page-St. Denis lined up in front of him in a Jeep Patriot.
The statement continues Burton did not see the lineup or the red light at the time his truck rear-ended Caldwell’s vehicle.
As a result, the impact threw Caldwell from his vehicle and completely destroyed his trailer.
Moreover, the red Dodge collided with Page-St. Denis’ vehicle, which wrapped around a nearby traffic light post.
She remained trapped inside for four hours until emergency services could free her from the vehicle.
First responders later pronounced Caldwell dead at the scene.
Among her many injuries, Page-St. Denis suffered a broken tibia and permanent nerve damage to her legs.
“The definition of hell”
The collision report determined Burton’s vehicle reached a top speed of 86 km/h at the moment the collision occurred.
Furthermore, they noted Burton failed to apply the brake until about one-second before the initial impact.
He then slowly lowered the brake to stop the large vehicle after the chain reaction.
As many as four other nearby vehicles lined up at that intersection received various amounts of car damage.
Court also heard six victim impact statements during the hearing.
First to be read was the widow of the deceased, Mrs Patsy Caldwell.
In her statement read by Victims Services, Mrs Caldwell described David as a devoted, caring, influential husband, father, and grandfather with a heart of gold.
She also added the family lost “the sunshine in our world”, with some members suffering from PTSD when approaching large vehicles on the roads.
The statement ends with Mrs Caldwell and her family hoping everyone drives with care and attention.
In their statement of facts, friends of David Caldwell as a helpful workmate, considerate, and trustworthy.
One family friend delivered a pointed question to Tyrel Burton, with reference to his actions that day “What was so important?”
Also, the court heard a statement from the mother of Marisa Page-St. Denis.
She described the ordeal as “the definition of hell”, and once thought rebuilding post-wildfire was the hardest thing her family had to face.
Mrs Page-St. Denis wrote about her daughter’s stay at the hospital, the painful road to recovery, Marisa’s permanent scars and nerve damage.
Moreover, she described how the challenges with accessibility and recovery impacted Marisa’s academics and athletics.
Mrs Page-St. Denis said she, Marisa, and the family also suffer from PTSD as a result of the incident.
Court Justice Gates presided over the sentencing.
He stated the sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and factor the offender’s degree of responsibility and moral culpability.
The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years, and for dangerous driving causing bodily harm is 10 years.
Considering the “elusive exercise” in similar cases both Counsels presented, Justice Gates found the range of sentencing between a conditional release and four years.
Despite finding the accused’s moral culpability to be mid-range, Justice Gates found four aggravating circumstances.
First, Burton was a veteran so driving a tractor-trailer required a great amount of care.
Secondly, it was Burton’s first trip to Fort McMurray, so he was unfamiliar with the location and inattentive for 30-45 seconds.
According to the statement of facts, Burton approached a busy intersection in the middle of the day.
Third, Burton’s speed was too high and he neglected to heed the posted speed limit signs and lights warning of an oncoming intersection.
Finally, the resulting crash had significant force causing Caldwell’s death and Page-St. Denis’ injuries.
However, Justice Gates found mitigating circumstances.
He found Burton showed genuine remorse when he submitted an early guilty plea.
Moreover, RCMP found an absence of alcohol, a fact most apparent in similar cases presented at the sentencing hearing.
Burton also had no prior criminal record and no traffic violations of any kind.
Lastly, Justice Gates read several letters of support from family, friends, and employers telling of Burton’s character.
Bearing those in mind, Justice Gates handed down a concurrent prison sentence of two years and three years driving prohibition.
Speaking directly to the accused after reading the sentence, Justice Gates said Burton committed a “serious error with dreadful consequences.”
Gates added Burton may be eligible for release after serving one-third of his sentence on good behaviour.
However, Gates suggested Burton view the experience as an opportunity to learn, thereby honouring the families of the victims.
The justice thanked the victims’ families for their support and hoped the experience gave them some closure.