This article was published 2/12/2016 (1661 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘Tis the season for holiday parties, family gatherings, good times and goodwill. And, unfortunately, drunk driving.
Last winter, Winnipeg police nabbed 56 motorists on impaired-related charges as part of their annual month-long Holiday Checkstop enforcement blitz. They included 46 men and 10 women ranging in age from 19 to 66. That marked a 24 per cent jump from the 45 people arrested in 2014.
With this year’s campaign about to get underway, there is real concern among law enforcement about what could be in store.
"People are always going to be prone to making bad choices. Unfortunately, this choice can have catastrophic consequences," Winnipeg police Staff. Sgt. Rob Riffel said this week. His officers in the traffic unit will be out in full force hoping to prevent the type of tragedies that have become all-too-common on Canadian roadways.
"Plan ahead. The time to decide whether to drive or not isn’t after you’ve had a few drinks. If you plan on drinking leave your car at home to remove the temptation," said Riffel.
Drunk driving was something society tolerated decades ago, but not anymore. Regular enforcement campaigns like Checkstop began in the early 1990s. Yet, despite crackdowns and education efforts by police, schools and organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, too many impaired people are still choosing to get behind the wheel, which is why the Free Press decided to take an in-depth look at the campaign against drunk driving.
Last year, police publicly released the names of all accused, apparently hoping to shame others into not following suit. The Free Press has tracked the fate of all of the accused in the provincial court system. While the dangers of drunk driving are well-known; what is lesser known is what happens to the drivers after they are charged.
As of last week, 29 have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced. Twenty-seven offenders were given fines ranging between the mandatory minimum of $1,000 to a high of $4,000. Total collected fines and surcharges against these drivers is more than $57,000.The other two guilty drivers were given jail sentences, due to their lengthy prior records and extreme circumstances of their cases. One received a year behind bars, the other 21 months.
Of the 29 drivers who have already admitted responsibility, 25 were given mandatory minimum one-year driving bans. Two were handed two-year prohibitions, one was slapped with a five-year ban and another was given a lifetime disqualification.
As for the other 27 accused from last year’s checkstop blitz, the Crown dropped charges against three drivers, without an explanation in court. The most likely scenario would be a potential problem with the collection of evidence, such as a Charter breach of the accused’s rights which may not have held up in law.
Three others have gone AWOL and are wanted on warrants after failing to appear in court. In essence, they’ve made a bad situation worse and will now be facing additional charges once they are re-arrested.
The remaining 21 motorists are still before the courts. Nineteen have trial dates set over the course of the next six months, where their fates will be determined.
The other two have not yet set the matter down for a specific hearing and appear to be playing the waiting game.
In addition to collecting data, the Free Press has reviewed audio transcripts of the majority of the sentencing hearings that have occurred over the past year. They reveal just how diverse a group impaired drivers can be.
From the frazzled new parent to the lifetime alcoholic, the offenders’ backgrounds runs the gamut. There are students and seasoned drivers, community volunteers and churchgoers, first-time offenders and habitual drunks.
And plenty of tearful apologies in court.
Here are some of their stories, which will hopefully serve as a sobering reminder to motorists about the perils of drinking and driving. Especially in a year when Manitoba had already recorded more than 100 traffic fatalities as of the end of November, with impaired driving suspected in at least 39 per cent, according to police.
That’s a major increase from the 80 motorists who died in 2015, and perhaps a troubling sign of tragedy still to come.
'It was stupid, I made a stupid choice'
As drunk driving cases go, this one was about as open-and-shut as they get.
Nolan Wozny, 20, was driving on McPhillips Street around 10:30 p.m. when his erratic driving caught the attention of police. His Pontiac Sunfire was swerving over the road, twice striking the curb, before pulling into the parking lot of the Canad Inns Garden City, which is where officers hit their lights to pull him over.
And if there was any doubt as to what they were dealing with, Wozny made no attempt to hide 71 empty beer cans scattered in the back seat.
"They noted red, glassy eyes, an unsteady manner of walking, slurred speech and a strong smell of liquor from his breath," said Crown attorney Sean Sass.
Wozny fessed up, telling police he was on his way to cash in the empties at the liquor vendor in exchange for more alcohol. He voluntarily gave three breath samples, which came in between .11 and .13.
"It was stupid. I made a bad choice," Wozny told court during his sentencing hearing earlier this year. He pleaded guilty just over a month after his arrest and was given a $1,500 fine, $450 in court costs and surcharges and a one-year driving ban.
Although he had no prior record, provincial court Judge Rob Finlayson raised the fine after learning Wozny was also texting while driving drunk, which is why he was seen striking the curb. He also had a friend in the passenger seat, who had wrestled his phone away from him.
"I shouldn’t have done it. I’ve learned my lesson," said Wozny, a welder by trade who admits his work may now suffer without having his licence.
"It’s a costly lesson, it really is. You put your safety, your buddy’s safety, the safety of everybody out there at risk," said Finlayson.
'...this kind of blood alcohol level is disturbing'
Rhonda Owen rang in the New Year by falling out of her car when pulled over by police.
Several concerned motorists had called 911 after seeing Owen, 29, swerving on Fort Street before running a red light just before 1 a.m.
Owen told police she’d consumed six or seven beers and five shots of Jack Daniels that night. Police also found an empty vodka bottle in her car and several opened beer cans.
Her readings were among the highest police found last winter — .24 and .26. She was also a suspended driver at the time, having failed to pay for her licence. Equally shocking was the fact Owen was seven months pregnant at the time.
Defence lawyer Brett Gladstone said his client had been doing respite work with Island Lake Child and Family Services but her arrest led to her termination.
"She doesn’t really recall the incident," Gladstone said.
Owen spent a night in custody, plus three more when she breached terms of her bail by failing to abstain from alcohol. Gladstone pointed to her troubled upbringing on the Pauingassi First Nation as a cause of many issues.
"This young lady has had a very difficult life," said Gladstone. "She’s mentioned to me on more than one occasion she’s thankful nobody was hurt."
Provincial court Judge Sid Lerner gave her a $2,000 fine, $600 in costs and surcharges, one-year driving ban and two years of supervised probation. Along with a lecture he hoped she would take to heart.
"You’ve come from a difficult background. You got to this stage of your life without any criminal involvement, which says something about you. People who come from a disadvantaged background like yourself tend to be more likely to fall into a life of crime, because things are harder for you," Lerner told her.
He said her extremely high readings were an ugly sign.
"The fact you were behind the wheel with this kind of blood alcohol level is disturbing. That’s just a classic invitation to disaster. If you’re able to actually be in a motor vehicle and be able to operate it to any extent, even as atrociously as you were doing, that tells me you’ve got an ongoing problem with addictions."
'Yeah, I’m sorry, I know I’m drunk. Give me a break'
Most drunk drivers show instant remorse when caught. But not Jamie Kiziuk.
"Yeah, I’m sorry, I know I’m drunk. Give me a break," Kiziuk, 54, told police after being pulled over last December. Officers saw his Jeep Wrangler blow through a stop sign at Fife Street and Mapleton Drive, then repeatedly veer into oncoming traffic and narrowly miss hitting a light standard.
Crown attorney Kevin Clayton said Kiziuk was also "slobbery, or drooling on himself" when first approached. He also refused to give a sample when asked.
"I won’t blow. I don’t need a lawyer, why are you picking on me?" he asked police.
"We don’t know what his blood alcohol concentration was but in all the circumstances I think we can assume he was quite impaired," Clayton said.
Kiziuk has a lengthy record dating back to 1985, ranging from assaults and threats to credit card fraud and driving disqualified.
Defence lawyer Brett Gladstone told court his client was in a bad place following the death of his mother. He’d also struggled with alcohol abuse much of his life.
On the night of the incident, Kiziuk had gone to a Winnipeg Jets game, then to a lounge to play VLTs and drink before sleeping for a couple hours in his vehicle in the parking lot.
"It’s one of those cases where an individual believed sleep would achieve the goal of sobriety," said Gladstone.
Kiziuk’s car ended up being impounded for two months as a result of his refusal to give a sample.
"I’m just terribly sorry," he told court.
Provincial court Judge Dale Schille gave him a $1,500 fine, along with $450 in costs and surcharges, along with a one-year driving ban.
"You are obviously quite fortunate you are not here facing more serious charges that would most likely result in some form of incarceration," Schille said.
'I’m very thankful it’s only money, that nobody else was hurt'
It was a night at the bar Darren Reyda can’t really remember — but now he won’t be able to forget it.
The 29-year-old construction worker said he met a woman while drinking one night last December, then accepted her invitation to go home with her. She threw him the keys, telling him to drive her car.
"It’s a situation where he was put on the spot, so to speak," defence lawyer Michael Dyck told court. "The consequences of that night are probably going to be following him for a number of years."
Reyda never made it to the woman’s home, instead he slammed into a parked car and caused $25,000 in damage for which he now owes Manitoba Public Insurance as part of a separate restitution order.
His blood-alcohol level was found to be at .16, exactly twice the legal limit.
"I’m very thankful it’s only money, that nobody else was hurt," Reyda told court after pleading guilty earlier this year. He was given an $1,800 fine, along with $540 in costs and surcharges, and a one-year driving ban, which will likely be extended by MPI should he fail to pay for the damage he caused.
'I’ve learned a lot from this incident'
She has otherwise been a pillar of the community — a full-time junior high school education assistant, a university student at night and a volunteer with a gay-straight alliance group and a theatre group.
But Cari Macfarlane made a choice last winter that will now follow her for the rest of her life. The 32-year-old was trying to turn left against a red light at St. Mary’s Road and Bishop Grandin Boulevard when she went into the path of an oncoming taxi, causing a crash. Fortunately there were no injuries.
It was just before 11 p.m., and Macfarlane panicked. She left the scene, ironically parking her car outside the liquor vendor on Dakota Street. Police arrested her a short time later.
She gave two breath samples, which came in at .12 and .13, while admitting what happened to officers.
"I’m very sorry. I’ve been constantly trying to figure out what caused me make such a poor judgment call," Macfarlane told court at her sentencing hearing in April. "I’ve learned a lot from this incident. I’m very fortunate there wasn’t any further harm done to anyone else around me."
Her lawyer noted she was suffering from anxiety at the time and on medication, which only made the situation worse. Macfarlane was given a $2,000 fine, $600 in costs and surcharges, and a one-year driving ban because her case involved a collision.
"I’ve really been struggling with my decision that day," said Macfarlane, who told the judge she believes she does have an alcohol problem for which she is now seeking treatment.
'The last thing, as a trucker, you wanted to meet on the highway is someone who’s been drinking'
Dale Morrisseau knows all about the hazards of the road. The 46-year-old Winnipeg man spent years as a long-distance trucker before a stroke caused a permanent brain injury.
He was snagged last December at a police roadside enforcement stop set up at Redwood Avenue and Main Street. It was just before 7 p.m. when Morrisseau was quizzed by police and showed visible signs of impairment.
When asked to get out of his 2002 Dodge Ram, Morrisseau had to lean against the vehicle to avoid falling over, court was told. Seven empty king-size cans of beer were inside the truck. Morrisseau was asked to give a sample but refused. He also had no vehicle insurance.
Morrisseau pleaded guilty just weeks after his arrest. His lawyer told court he was kicked out of his own home by his wife and wouldn’t be allowed to return until he got treatment for his alcohol problem. The couple was raising a 12-year-old daughter, along with a four-year-old grandson, and she didn’t want him to be a bad influence on the children.
Morrisseau was given a $1,600 fine along with $480 in costs and surcharges, plus a one-year driving ban. He was also ordered to pay another $250 for not having insurance. He had been seeking the mandatory minimum $1,000 penalty, but provincial court Judge Heather Pullan said his case was "not even close" to deserving such leniency.
Pullan spoke directly to Morrisseau about his time begin a big rig.
"It’s a hard job. I don’t need to tell you. Now, impaired driving is not a good solution to that. The last thing, as a trucker, you wanted to meet on the highway is someone who’s been drinking. I know you know better than most about the dangers of that, but here you are," she said.
'Alcohol made me something else'
It wasn’t a smoking gun, per se. But Jason McKay didn’t exactly hide what he was doing when pulled over by police in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.
McKay, 46, was clutching an open beer can in his hand as officers approached his car, which also included five drunk passengers. He had caught their attention by travelling 30 kilometres an hour on McPhillips Street while swerving over the road at around 2 a.m.
Tests showed him to have blood alcohol readings of .17 and .18.
McKay also didn’t have a driver’s licence and was previously convicted in 1995 of driving over .08. At that time, he got a $500 fine and three-month driving ban.
Crown attorney Melissa Hazelton asked court to impose something near the maximum $5,000 fine allowed by law, given his previous history. Defence lawyer Peter Tonge requested leniency, saying his client was out celebrating New Year’s with friends and made the decision to drive, seemingly the least drunk person in his group.
"I’m sorry about what I did. Alcohol made me something else. I shouldn’t have got behind the wheel. I’ve never been behind the wheel since. I don’t plan on it," McKay told court.
McKay was given a $2,500 fine, along with $750 in costs and surcharges, and a two-year driving ban. The judge told him there’s "nothing more flagrant" then being pulled over while still holding the beer you are consuming.
Dan Yang might pay the heaviest penalty of all the drivers charged last year for her mistake.
The 21 year old, in Canada on a student visa from China, could potentially face deportation as a result of her arrest. Yang crashed into a crosswalk pole on Pembina Highway just after 2:30 a.m. last winter after a night of drinking with friends.
"That’s my car. I’m sorry. I was driving. I’m never supposed to drink and drive, but I drink and drive," she told police.
Yang’s licence was conditional on the grounds she not consume any alcohol before getting behind the wheel. Two tests showed her to be at .14 and .15, nearly double the legal limit.
She is studying business at the University of Manitoba and has been in Winnipeg since 2012. Her lawyer told court a break-up with her boyfriend just days before the incident left her "devastated" and was the trigger.
As a foreign national now with a criminal record, her status could lead to an admissibility hearing with immigration officials.
"I’m sorry I did this. I knew I did wrong. I won’t do it again. I promise I will study hard here," she told court.
Yang was given a $2,000 fine, plus $600 costs, and a one-year driving ban.
'Getting stressed out because you have a six month old is certainly no excuse to drink and drive'
Ryan Shumski should consider himself to be a lucky man.
Lucky the chain-reaction crash he caused last winter only left eight occupants – including a pair of toddlers — in four other vehicles suffering minor injuries.
And lucky he walked out of court earlier this year with just a $4,000 fine, $1,200 in costs and surcharges, and a two-year driving ban instead of the jail sentence the Crown was seeking.
"He realizes how close this could have been to something disastrous," defence lawyer Matthew Gould told court.
This wasn’t Shumski’s first mistake, either. The 25-year-old Winnipegger has a 2009 conviction for driving over .08 in which he was given a $1,650 fine and a one-year driving ban.
On the night of latest incident, Shumski rear-ended a vehicle stopped at a red light at the corner of Ferry Road and Ness Avenue at 4 p.m. The impact pushed the car into three others. Shumski then got out of his vehicle and was obviously drunk, court was told.
He was described as "swaying back and forth" while apologizing to everyone in sight for what he’d done. He told police he’d only had four beers that afternoon at Boston Pizza but "went to town" the previous evening while drinking.
Shumski gave two samples nearly three hours after the initial crash, both showing him at .20. It’s likely he was higher at the time of the incident, perhaps as much as triple the legal limit.
"When he read those readings it was a shock," his lawyer said. "it really brought home that he has a problem which needs to be addressed."
Gould pleaded for a non-custodial sentence, saying Shumski is the father of a newborn baby and was experiencing related stress at the time.
"Getting stressed out because you have a six month old is certainly no excuse to drink and drive," said provincial court Judge Lee Ann Martin.
Shumski said he’d been an alcoholic since his early teens after "hanging out with the wrong crowd," but promised to clean up his act.
"I’m truly sorry for my actions. It was very irresponsible. I’m going to do everything in my power to never come back here again," he said.
"It’s usually the rather upstanding people of Canada who are committing these offences. Most of those people don’t see themselves as criminals," Martin told him. "When you are impaired and get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you are putting everybody’s life at risk. Courts across the country are concerned that young people, such as yourself, are continuing to do this."
'You’ve got nothing on me, man, F---- you'
There is no such thing as a "routine" call for police.
What began as a call for a suspected drunk driver turned into something much more. Police approached Jordan Myran, 23, outside a Burrows Avenue home and found a stolen pump-action shotgun in the back seat.
As well, a drunk and irate Myran then took a swing at an officer, barely missing him.
"You’ve got nothing on me, man," Myran shouted as he was being arrested.
"F---- you," was his response to a request for a blood alcohol sample.
Myran claims to have no memory of the night, although he’s no stranger to the justice system. His record includes two prior weapons bans, which were still in place at the time. He was also a disqualified driver.
Myran would end up in hospital for treatment to injuries suffered in a scuffle with police. He was also detained in custody without bail and had already spent more than three months in jail at the time of his guilty plea in March to impaired driving, assaulting a police officer and possession of a firearm.
Provincial court Judge Dale Harvey gave Myran another 18 months behind bars, along with a five-year driving ban and lifetime weapons ban. Myran was also ordered to pay an $800-victim-fine surcharge.
Court heard Myran has battled addiction issues for much of his life and has seen many family members die of alcohol-related issues.
"Your history is horrible," Harvey said. He said the mixture of impairment and the stolen gun was a "recipe for disaster."
'I’m not sure what I can say. There’s no excuse'
Sean McCauley should have known better. The Winnipeg man has family members in law enforcement who have told him about the perils of drinking and driving.
Yet there he was, standing in a Winnipeg courtroom earlier this year while acting as his own lawyer, confessing to his sins.
McCauley, 36, told provincial court Judge John Guy how he’d consumed several glasses of wine before heading to a corner store on Sherbrook Street just after 9 p.m.
Several citizens had called police after seeing McCauley stumbling around and getting into his vehicle.
"Yes, sir," McCauley told the first officer on the scene who asked if he’d been drinking. His teeth and lips were stained red, and he struggled to pull his licence out of his own pocket, court heard.
Tests showed he had readings of .21 and .23, nearly triple the legal limit.
"I’m not sure what I can say. There’s no excuse. What I did was reprehensible," McCauley said at his sentencing hearing. The single dad of a four-year-old girl said he hasn’t touched a sip of alcohol since his arrest.
"I feel horrible. I’m glad nobody was hurt. I lost countless hours and days of sleep," he said.
Guy gave him a $2,000 fine, plus $600 in costs, and a one-year driving ban.
"It’s a serious matter because of the high readings and the state you were in at the time," the judge said.
'I’m a heavy drinker. I’m an alcoholic'
He had four prior drunk driving convictions on his criminal record.
Now, Alexander Green has lost the right to drive for the rest of his life following his most recent arrest.
Green, 38, had just been released from custody in November 2015 on an assault causing bodily harm conviction when he found himself back in trouble a few weeks later.
Police spotted his Dodge Ram pickup truck driving into oncoming traffic on Rupert Avenue one evening last December.
Crown attorney Mark Kantor told court Green "had difficulty forming sentences" when approached by police. Green later passed out in the cruiser while being interviewed by police.
"The officer was overwhelmed by the strong smell of alcohol that had saturated the vehicle," said Kantor.
Green refused to be tested, but told police he’d consumed a mix of whisky, beer and vodka that night. An officer asked him how much.
"Too much, I guess," he replied. "I’m a heavy drinker. I’m an alcoholic."
Because this was his fifth conviction, Green faced a mandatory minimum sentence of four months in jail. The Crown requested one year.
"Efforts to treat him have clearly failed," Kantor said.
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Green, a father of two teen boys, pleaded for leniency and understanding. Court heard how he hadbounced around various foster homes while growing up in Shoal Lake and had been surrounded by neglect and abuse much of his life. His lawyer said he now has a "significant treatment plan in place."
"I’ve made choices in my life — good ones and bad ones — unfortunately I’m here because I made a bad one. I’m glad no one was actually hurt in the incident," Green told court. "I know in my life alcohol has been a real problem for me. That’s all I know, pretty much, is alcohol and drinking. I want to change now, so I don’t have to end up coming here anymore."
Provincial court Judge Catherine Carlson agreed to the Crown’s request for a one-year sentence.
"It sounds like this incident may be the wake-up call you really needed. It sounds as if you are committed to getting treatment and turning things around for yourself," Carlson said. "It’s clear based on the observations of the officers you were very impaired. Every day we turn on the news or open the newspaper and see that people have been hurt or killed by drunk drivers. It’s very fortunate we are not here dealing with that situation."
Mike McIntyre Sports columnist
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.