The Manitoba justice system, Winnipeg police and RCMP have shown an amazing lack of consistency this week in the way two tragic impaired driving cases have been handled.
Let me walk you through the timeline.
TUESDAY, 10 p.m. - Elaine Stoller’s life is cut short after a suspected drunk behind the wheel of a GMC truck smashes into her Pontiac Vibe at the intersection of Waverley Street and Grant Avenue. Stoller, 65, suffers massive injuries and is pronounced dead at hospital. The beloved retiree was just days away from a trip to Puerto Vallarta.
Hugo Sergio Ruizfuentes, 41, is arrested at the scene and charged with impaired driving causing death and driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit.
Police detain Ruizfuentes in custody and take him to the Remand Centre.
THURSDAY, 3 P.M. – Ruizfuentes is denied bail by provincial court Judge Sid Lerner. A court-ordered ban prevents details of the hearing from being published. The Free Press has learned he has no prior criminal record. However, in late January, Ruizfuentes just finished paying back more than $16,000 in damages and court costs to Manitoba Public Insurance for a smashup on Aug. 31, 2002.
MPI had launched a lawsuit against Ruizfuentes after the former exotic dancer-turned-carpenter lost control of the truck he was driving, mounted a curb and smashed into a tree in St. Boniface.
At the time of the accident, MPI claimed he was driving without a valid licence, was speeding and driving recklessly just prior to the collision. A judgement against him was entered in 2005.
THURSDAY, 7:15 P.M. - A 35-year-old woman and 33-year-old man from Swan River are killed after the Dodge Neon they are passengers in is hit by a pickup that crossed the centre line of Highway 10, about one kilometre east of Swan River.
The 58-year-old driver had initially hit a Ford 500 car on the driver’s side as the car attempted to avoid the collision. The truck then hit the Neon that was travelling westbound behind the Ford.
The driver of the Neon was taken to Swan Valley Health Facility, where he is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. His passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the Ford car was not injured.
The driver of the pickup was taken by ambulance to the Swan Valley Health Facility, where he was treated and released a short time later into the custody of the RCMP.
Policer charged him with two counts of impaired driving causing death. The man, a resident of Minitonas, was then released by officers on a promise to appear in court on Dec. 17. Police have not released the man’s name. It’s unknown if he has a prior record.
AM I MISSING SOMETHING HERE?
On one hand, you have Winnipeg police detaining a man with no criminal record after he allegedly kills a woman while drunk driving. Police release his name immediately, and a judge later agrees the man should remain behind bars pending trial.
On the other hand, you have RCMP releasing a man after he allegedly kills two people while drunk driving. Police refuse to release his name publicly. He will be free in the community until his trial.
This doesn’t make any sense.
Hugo Ruizfuentes has every right to be livid. The nameless Minitonas driver should be thanking his lucky stars. And, I would suggest, the RCMP have some questions to answer about how they handled the case.
My colleague, Meghan Hurley, spoke with the Mounties today. They gave some weak explanation about not having the grounds to detain him based on his prior record (or lack thereof, I presume), the fact he has a stable address, etc.
But that doesn’t wash with me. And it shouldn’t with you either. Because we’ve all seen with our own eyes this week how Ruizfuentes was locked up, despite having no prior record, an address, etc.
Seems to me this is just another, very blatant example of how the criminal justice system is stunningly inconsistent.