Drunk stepdad teaching teen to drive takes the wheel, crashes car, killing stepson, sentenced to three years
Her son’s large red high school football hoodie hung loosely off her shoulders, No. 68, from the St. Andre Bessette Bulldogs, her “Gentle Giant.”
“He had a big heart and loved life,” Agnes Rutherford wrote in a victim impact statement about her 16-year-old son, Thomas Decoste.
“He was a free spirit. His laughter was outstanding, just an amazing young man who had a bright future. He made me so proud.”
He was six-foot-three. He worked at a summer camp. When he was little, he loved his Hot Wheels.
While his sweatshirt brought her some comfort, she wrote that his death has forced her to wear a painful pair of emotional shoes. “I am wearing shoes that no woman deserves to wear. Yet, because of these shoes I am a stronger woman,” she wrote.
“These shoes have given me the strength to face anything. They have made me who I am. I will ever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child.”
Decoste’s photograph, that of a smiling teen, was presented to the courtroom. While assistant Crown attorney George Christakos read his mother’s words to Ontario Court Justice Wayne Rabley, her former husband, Decoste’s stepfather, Andrew Rutherford, 42, sat quietly at the defence table.
He pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing Decoste’s death, a death that ripped apart a family and sent him to prison for three years.
While a pall of heartbreak hangs in courtrooms hearing fatal impaired driving cases, Decoste’s death brought an extra load of sadness and senselessness.
Decoste died while learning how to drive, Rabley was told. What was supposed to be a private time between father and son turned into tragedy.
Christakos told the court police were called to a crash on Oxbow Drive on Aug. 7, 2016 where officers found a 2003 Chrysler Intrepid upside down in a ditch.
Decoste was found dead, lying beside the car. His stepfather was in the driver’s seat, injured, and had to be extricated from the vehicle by firefighters.
The car, owned by Andrew Rutherford, was not insured. It had been taken off the road four months earlier because it needed too many repairs and was deteriorating.
Investigators determined Decoste was wearing a seat-belt at the time of the crash, but both the seat-belt and the door were damaged in the collision.
There was no way to determine when the crash happened, and investigators could only narrow down the time to between 1 a.m. – the time of Decoste’s last text message – and 6 a.m. when the car was found.
He was a free spirit. His laughter was outstanding, just an amazing young man who had a bright future. He made me so proud. -Agnes Rutherford
Andrew Rutherford is a recovering alcoholic and had other medical conditions.
Blood taken from Andrew Rutherford at Victoria Hospital was tested as part of the investigation. Toxicology tests indicated his blood-alcohol level could have been as high was 248 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, three times the legal limit, at 1 a.m.
It was as low as 118 milligrams of blood in 100 millilitres of alcohol at 6 a.m.
Andrew Rutherford wasn’t charged for several months after the crash while investigators waited for toxicology and crash reconstruction reports.
His defence lawyer, Peter Behr, told Rabley Andrew Rutherford had been a transport truck driver for 15 years until he was injured nine years ago. His shoulder injury remained an issue and he turned to alcohol.
Decoste, he said, had just gotten his beginner’s driver’s license. He and his stepfather would go out driving late at night to practice and to talk.
It was never Andrew Rutherford’s intention to drive, but after a few hours, Decoste was tired. The stepfather took over the wheel.
Then came the crash.
Rutherford had helped raise Decoste and had two younger daughters with Agnes Rutherford.
The night before the crash, he had been at a alcohol addiction meeting. However, he had hidden alcohol at his house and drank before going out driving with his stepson, never thinking he would be driving.
Andrew Rutherford told Rabley he is devastated. He spoke of how much he loved his stepson and how admired Decoste was by the family and community.
Every night when he goes to bed and when he wakes up in the morning, all that is on his mind is the death of his stepson. He takes responsibility for the loss of his stepson.
Christakos read four victim impact statements, but it was Decoste’s mother’s words that lingered throughout the sentencing.
Agnes Rutherford still blames herself. She’s angry at her ex-husband. She and her family are “in despair struggling to live a normal life.”
“You can only imagine what Thomas would say of the life he has lost, the time that no longer exists,” she wrote. “No more experiences, no more special moments with his mother, grandparents, sisters, nephews and nieces. No more being with his family.
“No more of his own moments to drive his first car, going to the prom with his girl. No more first kiss, no more to be wed to the woman of his dreams, no more dreams at all. No life, just gone out of existence.
“It is so cruel.”
Rabley clearly was moved by the tragedy. The three-year sentence was a joint submission, but it took into account the guilty plea.
He noted the case was a difficult one, but gave Andrew Rutherford credit for taking responsibility for the worst of mistakes.
He would have to live with it.
“It’s not an easy ride,” he told the stepfather about prison. “Do what you need to do and make yourself better.”
Source: London Free Press