Family members of a mother and infant killed after their SUV was hit by a car fleeing from police cried in disappointment Thursday as a judge gave a break to the man responsible for their deaths.
Jennifer Dethmers, 30, died Sept. 26, 2020, the day of the crash. Her nine-month-old son, Anthony, died a month later in hospital. Two other occupants of the vehicle, Dethmers’ stepdaughter and the infant boy’s father, were seriously injured.
Armand Chartrand, 43, pleaded guilty last spring to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and three counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. At the time of the crash, Chartrand had been legally prohibited from getting behind the wheel for more than 25 years.
On Thursday, provincial court Judge Wanda Garreck sentenced Chartrand to eight years in prison.
Garreck said while a defence recommendation of seven years was insufficient punishment for Chartrand’s crimes, the nine-year sentence recommended by the Crown "was not consistent with" changes Chartrand had made to his lifestyle in recent years and clear expressions of responsibility.
Garreck credited Chartrand for time served, reducing his remaining sentence to just over six years. His sentence includes a lifetime driving ban.
Following the sentencing, Dethmers’ mother sat outside court, sobbing with her head in her hands as her son and other family members comforted her.
Chartrand, who has been suspended from driving since he was 17, was driving a pickup truck in the area of Main Street and Redwood Avenue around 1:30 p.m. when city police, seeing the vehicle had inactive plates, attempted to pull him over.
Chartrand continued driving to Boyd Avenue, where he picked up speed and police pulled back due to safety concerns, court heard.
According to a police collision re-constructionist, Chartrand was driving an estimated 112 km/h when he blew through a stop sign at the intersection of Boyd and Andrews Street and collided with Dethmers’ van.
There was no evidence Chartrand attempted to brake prior to the collision.
Chartrand climbed out of his driver’s side window and was quickly taken to the ground by police. After initially claiming he was not the driver, Chartrand admitted he was behind the wheel, telling police: "God, I f—-ed up, I should have stopped."
Chartrand said he didn’t stop because he didn’t want to be arrested for driving without a licence.
A review by the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba last January found no evidence any actions by police contributed to the collision.
Chartrand has a lengthy prior record for driving offences and other crimes, but prior to the fatal collision had not been before the court since 2012, when he pleaded guilty to driving without a licence and insurance.
In 2002, Chartrand was sentenced to a prison term after pleading guilty to robbery and several driving-related offences, including theft of a motor vehicle, possession of a stolen automobile and joyriding.
While Chartrand has made "significant changes" to his life in recent years, he has at the same time made no effort to become a licensed driver while continuing to drive illegally, Garreck said.
Chartrand’s decision to drive the day of the fatal crash "was totally planned and in his control and what put him in this predicament," Garreck said.
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.