Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Judge tells accused he needs help, denies bail

Second drunk-driving case for father, 38

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A Manitoba judge known for his tough stance on impaired driving adamantly refused to release a repeat offender on bail Friday, citing the potential danger his freedom could pose to the public.

"I would shake in my boots every morning when I woke up to read the newspaper to wonder whether or not you were the guy who killed somebody," Judge Ray Wyant told Scott Fitzgerald.

"You need help," the judge said.

Fitzgerald has been in custody since last weekend, accused of driving over the legal limit of .08, driving while impaired and driving while disqualified. Witnesses called 911 after seeing him bash his vehicle into a median and get out to change a tire.

The 38-year-old is also awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to impaired driving causing bodily harm -- charges stemming from an August 2011 crash on Bishop Grandin Boulevard that injured two people. One was sent to hospital, Wyant was told.

Last weekend, Fitzgerald was out on release conditions and prohibited from driving at the time of his arrest near Kenaston Boulevard and Carpathia Street around 8 a.m. Saturday.

Police allege beer cans were found in the car within the reach of the driver and breathalyzer readings were at nearly three times the legal limit.

Fitzgerald was drinking with friends at his home the night before his arrest and had given them rides home, Crown attorney Melissa Schrader told court.

The new charges the father of two faces have not been proven and Fitzgerald is presumed innocent. Schrader opposed his release on the basis he poses a risk to reoffend.

Wyant agreed, noting Fitzgerald's "demonstrative" behaviour in court was a sign of a person in need of help.

During the hearing, a clearly distressed Fitzgerald could be heard exclaiming, "no," "please," and at one point said, "I need help."

Wyant said he wasn't denying bail because of Fitzgerald's alcoholism -- an acknowledged disease -- but because of the risk he poses to the public if he doesn't get treatment.

"I am absolutely of the abiding moral conviction that if I were to release you at this time, you have no ability to control your drinking and you will pose a significant risk," Wyant said. "I'm not going to risk the life and safety of any individual on the streets to you."

Wyant made headlines in July 2012 by sentencing a first-time drunk driver to jail, declaring "the gloves are coming off" when it comes to how the courts handle the crime.

Fitzgerald has convictions for driving over .08 from 2001 and refusing to provide a breath sample from 1994.

Court records show Fitzgerald pleaded guilty to charges from the 2011 incident more than a year ago. He's seeking a curative discharge, a rare sentence that would allow him to avoid a conviction if he successfully completes treatment during probation. Prosecutors argue a curative discharge isn't available in a case involving bodily harm.

A judge will rule on the issue Nov. 6.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 A3

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