‘I have holes in my heart that cause unbearable pain’

A grieving Welland mother told a judge her heart “has been ripped into a million pieces, and I will never find the fragments again” as the man responsible for her daughter’s death was sentenced to five years in prison.

Jake Pirson, 23, pleaded guilty on Aug. 9 to impaired driving causing death in the crash that killed Julia Pieroway, 20, last fall.

“I have holes in my heart that cause unbearable pain, which will never go away,” said Cheryl Pieroway Thursday in Ontario Court of Justice in St. Catharines.

“I now cling onto my two remaining kids, and my husband, worried that their tomorrows are not guaranteed. My heart is forever broken, and most of my hope has been destroyed.”

“I would give anything to be his parents right now. They get him back in 20 months. Julia is gone for forever.”

Robert Pieroway

Julia’s father

Julia Pieroway died instantly from catastrophic head injuries at about 2:15 a.m. on Biggar Road in Niagara Falls on Nov. 12, 2017. Pirson, and the other passengers including Pirson’s girlfriend, walked away with minor injuries.

Crown attorney Andrew Brown told court the vehicle was travelling at more than 170 km/h, and Pirson had a blood alcohol level of 114 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. This blood sample also tested positive for a small quantity of THC. Two other charges were dropped as a result of his guilty plea.

Pirson also received five-year ban on driving that begins when his prison sentence ends. That was the only bone of contention in the joint-sentencing agreement. The Crown wanted an eight-year ban.

Standing outside the courthouse after the hearing ended, Robert Pieroway, Julia’s father, said the five-year sentence is indicative of a court system that fails victims of impaired driving causing death.

“People won’t willingly go out and kill someone because the penalty for that is harsh,” he said. “For some reason, drinking and driving causing death is almost like an afterthought. I would like to see the court system ratchet up the sentences over time so the fear of the penalty would be more of a deterrent.”

Pieroway said, as he understands it, Pirson will likely serve one-third of his sentence and be free in 20 months.

“He essentially is going to jail for one month of every year my daughter lived,” Pieroway said. “He has the potential to live for another 50 or 60 or 70 years. He can go on and do some good things with his life, I hope, but that’s what is hard for us. We think of everything my daughter won’t get to do.”

He said the sentencing hearing didn’t change anything for his family. There isn’t any closure.

“If anything, it leaves us a little more angry,” he said. “I would give anything to be his parents right now. They get him back in 20 months. Julia is gone for forever.”

Justice Fergus O’Donnell referenced a decades-old decision that is still relevant today. He said every year drunk driving leaves “a terrible trail of death, injury, heartbreak and destruction” across the country, but the message continues to fall on deaf ears.

O’Donnell told Pirson, who is slim with youthful features, that prison will be a test of his fortitude, but he wanted the defendant to use the time wisely.

“You have to realize that when good people do bad things, that does not define them,” O’Donnell said. “There is a saying from the bible — hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Defence lawyer Brenda Sandulak said her client was “extremely” remorseful and often cried during interviews to prepare for court.

“I am concerned about how he will be able to function in the penitentiary system,” she said.

Asked if he had anything to say, Pirson turned to the Pieroway family and apologized.

“I will always remember her,” he said. “She was a great person and didn’t deserve this to happen. That’s all I can say.”

Source: St. Catharines Standard