December 12, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Tears were flowing in a Winnipeg courtroom today at the sentencing hearing for a drunk driver who killed three innocent victims.
Clarke Gordon Harding, 32, has pleaded guilty to causing the January 2012 tragedy near Sanford.
Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft told court he is seeking a six-year sentence to send home a strong message to other motorists, especially since impaired driving remains such a major issue in Manitoba.
Defence lawyer Sarah Inness asked for a three-year penalty for her client, saying he made a tragic error in judgment which will forever haunt him.
"He is not an intentional killer. He thought he would be ok (to drive)," said Inness.
Provincial court Judge Tracey Lord has reserved her decision until Nov. 4.
Harding was driving a Chrysler Sebring when he crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic and struck a Nissan pickup truck on Highway 3 southwest of Winnipeg.
The driver of the truck, Paul Kler, 64, was killed instantly. Two passengers in Harding’s car also died in hospital: Ellory Kirkwood, 20, and Michelle Hastings, 21. They were both friends of Harding’s who had been out at the bar with him that evening.
"I don’t feel lucky that I lived. I still wish every day I could trade places with them," an emotional Harding told court today. "I wish I could take it all back. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I just want you to know that I’m sorry."
Family members of all three victims packed the courtroom and read powerful impact statements in court this morning, describing their loss and anguish.
"Our world was shattered that day. It’s tragic your decision to drive in that state took three lives and turned our world upside down," Kler’s widow, Darlene, told court.
Kler’s daughter, Julie Martens, urged Harding to ensure his deadly mistake becomes a teaching tool for others.
"Tell people your story, teach our young about the devastation a bad, irresponsible choice can cause," she said. "it would be a shame to think these three deaths taught us nothing."
Updated on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 1:15 PM CDT:
Writethru, with sentencing to take place Nov. 4.