February 22, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press

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'Consumed with rage, grief'

Father of teen killed by driver high on meth gives victim impact statement at sentencing hearing

One after the other, Ben Harris’s parents and two sisters voiced their pain and their rage at the man who killed him.

"I am so angry that the accused was out (of custody) after doing so many awful things before (Ben's death)," the 15-year-old St. Andrews boy’s mother, Brenda Harris, told a courtroom crowded with friends and family Wednesday afternoon.

"Everyone has free will," she said. "This did not have to happen."

Ben Harris was killed after Justin Little, high on meth and behind the wheel of a stolen truck, ran over him on a quiet St. Andrews road, late Aug. 10, 2018. (Free Press files)

Ben Harris was killed after Justin Little, high on meth and behind the wheel of a stolen truck, ran over him on a quiet St. Andrews road, late Aug. 10, 2018. (Free Press files)

The teen was killed after Justin Little, high on meth and behind the wheel of a stolen truck, ran over him on a quiet St. Andrews road, late Aug. 10, 2018. Ben and another teen, who was also struck but survived, were biking home after spending the night at a friend’s house.

Little, 30, pleaded guilty last November to impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm and two counts of leaving the scene of an accident.

After the collision, Little approached Ben’s friend and told him he was leaving to find a friend with a cellphone. Instead he fled and was found by a police canine unit a short time later, hiding in a car.

"That’s nothing short of being morally despicable," said Crown attorney Manoja Moorthy, who recommended provincial court Judge Sid Lerner sentence Little to seven years in prison.

At the time of the crash, Little was the subject of two arrest warrants in Alberta. He had been released on bail 12 days earlier in Winnipeg after being arrested for stealing a car. He was also disqualified from driving and was under a recognizance to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and obey a curfew.

Little stole the truck two days before the crash and had painted it white. He planned to drive back to Alberta.

An accident reconstructionist testified Little had been travelling 83 km/h and was heading toward the ditch for 31 metres when he struck Ben and his friend. Little drove another 30 metres before he ended in the ditch and finally applied the brakes.

When he was arrested, Little had needles in his possession and admitted he had taken meth earlier that day. A blood sample confirmed the meth level in his blood was in the "toxic" range at the time of the collision, Moorthy said.

In a police interview, Little was "almost taunting police about the information they had" and chuckled, Moorthy said.

"Throughout his statement he minimizes his involvement or tests police to see what they had… so he could tailor his story," she said.

Little told police he was taking meth to stay awake and claimed he drove just as well on meth as he did sober.

Moorthy urged Lerner not to place too much weight on Little’s drug addiction and instead focus on his actions.

"His mistaken behaviour started two days earlier when he stole that vehicle," Moorthy said. "We aren’t sentencing him for his addiction issues… Driving is the issue here. He is driving when he isn’t supposed to."

Brenda (left), John, and Hannah Harris stand by the makeshift memorial on Donald Road last August. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Brenda (left), John, and Hannah Harris stand by the makeshift memorial on Donald Road last August. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Ben’s family and friends, several of whom clutched framed pictures of him, prepared 78 victim impact statements, 17 of which were read out in court Wednesday.

"I am consumed with rage, grief and helplessness," said Ben’s father, John Harris. "This didn’t have to happen. The accused didn’t have to steal a car. He didn’t have to kill Ben."

Harris said he still has no answer why Little was released on bail prior to the crash.

Family and friends described Ben as a promising musician with a ready smile and laugh who brought out the best in people.

"I worry that his legacy will be that he was killed," John Harris said. "He will never be known for his talents and his accomplishments. He will never be known for his potential."

Ben "was an innocent and loving young man," said his godfather Gregory Desrosiers. "Ben was going to make a mark on humanity and humanity was robbed."

The sentencing hearing resumes Wednesday with submissions from the defence.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 9:20 PM CST: Fixes typo

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