Community’s support sways judge in sentencing drunk driver who killed friend Then-18-year-old flipped truck while spinning ‘doughnuts’ with youth in backseat
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Spinning “doughnuts” in his truck at high speed on the family farm was something Kyle Nolan Devos told police he “did for fun.”
The fun turned to life-changing horror on a cold April night in 2018, after Devos got behind the wheel after drinking at a party. His 15-year-old best friend was in the backseat and hadn’t put a seatbelt on. The truck fishtailed in the field just outside Bruxelles and flipped over, killing his friend.
A Crown attorney said the crime justified a four-year prison sentence for Devos, now 22.
Instead, Court of King’s Bench Justice Elliot Leven last month sentenced him to just six months in jail and three years probation, saying he could not ignore overwhelming evidence of his good character.
Devos was convicted after trial of driving impaired causing death and dangerous driving causing death in the April 7, 2018 tragedy about 100 kilometres southwest of Portage la Prairie.
The victim cannot be identified by name under terms of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Devos’ lawyer Ryan Amy provided court with 129 letters from family and community members attesting to his remorse, history of volunteerism and sports leadership.
“The letters make it clear that Mr. Devos is, in his very essence, a young man of kindness, empathy, integrity and generosity.”–Justice Elliot Leven
“The letters make it clear that Mr. Devos is, in his very essence, a young man of kindness, empathy, integrity and generosity,” Leven said. “It would be unfair to simply ignore these essential facts in crafting a just and proportional sentence.”
But those same letters, as well as a pre-sentence report prepared for court, provided evidence of a community that refused to concede a crime had been committed, and that the 15-year-old boy was instead the victim of a “freak accident,” Crown attorney Jay Funke argued at a sentencing hearing last June.
“The harm caused by the accused was substantial, extensive and irreparable,” Funke said.
None of the letters acknowledged that Devos was drinking and driving, and many attempted to “normalize” his behaviour, Funke said.
One writer, who described himself as a friend to both Devos’ and the victim’s families said: “for reasons unknown to us, God decided he wanted (the victim) back.”
“I know very few teenage boys who have not spun their tires or cut power turns to some extent and this group was no different,” the man said. “Kyle Devos seems to be left holding the bag, so to speak, because he was driving.”
“I know very few teenage boys who have not spun their tires or cut power turns to some extent and this group was no different.”–Family friend
A pre-sentence report provided to court quoted Devos’ father as saying: “There is no daredevil in him at all…. He hasn’t done anything any farm boy hasn’t done.”
Funke argued the probation officer who wrote the pre-sentence report minimized Devos’s actions as well, describing the incident as an “accident” and adopting the family’s position that the community and victim’s family had forgiven him.
“Accidents are not intentional,” the probation officer wrote. “Mr. Devos did not anticipate or plan this tragic outcome.”
No one sets out to kill someone when they drive impaired, Funke said.
“That’s not required for conviction… that does not make what occurred an accident,” he said.
Funke argued the appropriate sentencing range for a first-time offender was two to five years, pointing to the benchmark Manitoba case of Sergio Ruizfuentes, who was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for a 2009 drunk-driving crash that claimed the life of a 63-year-old grandmother.
“Accidents are not intentional. Mr. Devos did not anticipate or plan this tragic outcome.”–Probation officer
Funke said a four-year sentence for Devos would send a message to him and the community that the incident “was not merely a freak accident.”
“This was criminal conduct that resulted in the death of a 15-year-old child and that seems to be entirely lost on this community,” he said.
Devos was barely 18 at the time of the crime and should not be treated the same as an offender such as Ruizfuentes, who was 41 when he was arrested and had a long history of driving offences, Amy argued last June.
“Youths are a challenge in court because they don’t have the life experience and the law doesn’t account for that when deciding if someone is innocent or guilty,” Amy said. “To hold (Devos) to the same standard isn’t fair.”
Leven appeared to agree.
“Comparing Mr. Devos and Mr. Ruizfuentes, if the latter only deserved 4 1/2 years in prison, it is fairly obvious that the former does not deserve four years in prison,” the judge said.
“He is working every day that he can to make things as right as he can.”–Defence lawyer Ryan Amy
Devos doesn’t need jail to deter him, Amy said; his friend’s death has already done that.
“He is working every day that he can to make things as right as he can,” Amy said. “He could have moved to Winnipeg and become anonymous. He didn’t. He knows every time he leaves his house and comes into contact with neighbours and community members that they know what he did and what he is responsible for.”
Devos, addressing court last June, said he misses his friend “every minute of every day.”
“I don’t know what I was thinking that night, but I know I will never do anything like it again. I vow to speak to anyone who will listen about safety and the rules of the road.”
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.