A southwestern Ontario man has been sentenced to 30 months and had his driver’s licence suspended for three years for a fatal collision on Highway 69 South in the Pickerel River area three years ago.
Brian Hazen, 59, of Walsingham, had been found guilty by a Parry Sound jury in May of one count of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of criminal negligence causing death for the collision.
“In my view, given the finding by the jury that Mr. Hazen’s ability to drive was not impaired by drugs, together with his long history of solid employment and the absence of a criminal record, a fit and just sentence in this case is a custodial sentence of 30 months on each of the three counts, to be served concurrently,” said Superior Court Justice Edward Koke, in his written decision late last month.
Hazen was driving a rented minivan when he collided with a vehicle driven by Patrick O’Brien, 63, of Barrie, who died. Two passengers in the O’Brien vehicle – his long-term partner, Jasmine Dixon, and a child, Skylar Eng-Anderson – were seriously hurt.
Hazen had been charged with one count of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.
At the start of the trial, Hazen pleaded guilty to methamphetamine possession. He was fined $650 in relation to that charge. As well, Hazen was ordered to provide a genetic sample to the national DNA databank.
The Crown had sought a jail term of four years while the defence suggested two years plus a day.
The trial heard that about 10 days before the collision, Hazen had driven the minivan from his home to Blind River, with Stephen Panasiuk, a welder, along with him.
Panasiuk had asked Hazen, a retired millwright, to assist him in a work assignment in the North Shore town, which involved testing equipment and machinery at a lime-producing plant. They had to work at heights, using equipment and tools which the van was able to accommodate.
On the return trip home Oct. 3, the pair stopped briefly in Sudbury and then at the French River Trading Post for a break. The collision occurred shortly after.
Panasiuk testified Hazen had driven with due care and attention throughout both trips. But just before the collision with the O’Brien vehicle, Hazen coughed and lowered his window to spit out some phlegm.
Moments later, Panasiuk noticed the minivan was drifting into the oncoming lane, Hazen’s hands were gripping the steering wheel, and he was staring straight ahead. He said when he called out to him, Hazen was unresponsive. The vehicle continued to drift into the oncoming lane and the crash occurred.
Hazen testified he regularly uses methamphetamine, but on a recreational basis. On the evening before the collision, he said he had taken a couple of puffs of the drug and then fell asleep about midnight.
He denied ingesting methamphetamine prior to the collision.
Officers investigating the crash found an open container containing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia wedged against the backs of the vehicle’s front seats.
Panasiuk testified he did not see Hazen consume any methamphetamine on the drive home, but could not say if Hazen had taken any of the drug when Panasiuk was absent from the vehicle during their stop in Sudbury.
Hazen also denied having experienced a similar episode in the past in which he had suffered from an apparent, sudden loss of consciousness or fainting.
A forensic scientist with the Centre of Forensic Sciences testified a blood sample taken from Hazen on the day of the collision detected methamphetamine, but stated that the concentration of the drug in a sample of blood cannot be used to determine whether a person’s driving was impaired or the degree of impairment, as is the case with a blood/alcohol concentration test.
An internal medicine specialist, who was also one of Hazen’s treating doctors, testified Hazen informed him that just prior to losing control of the minivan he had a coughing fit, after which he wiped some phlegm off the steering wheel.
Dr. Timothy Bard also said Hazen told him that following the day of the collision, he had experienced a second fainting spell in his home, which caused him to fall and knock over a table, and that he had also experienced four or five fainting or lightheaded spells.
Bard said that in treating Hazen, it was his impression the fainting was triggered by coughing.
The court heard Hazen did not have a prior criminal record, but did have 10 convictions for speeding from 1985 to 2010.
Dixon, the court heard, was hospitalized in Greater Sudbury for several weeks. After she was released, Dixon continued to receive treatment and therapy and is still dealing with ongoing fatigue, pain and discomfort, as well as scarring.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this accident has had a severe and detrimental impact on Mr. O’Brien’s family and friends and that they have suffered and will continue to suffer significantly as a result of his loss,” said Koke, in his decision.
Following the collision, the court heard, Hazen wrote a letter of sorrow and apology to the victims, in which he expressed that he would trade places with Mr. O’Brien if he could, and that he continues to be troubled daily by what happened.
Hazen expressed similar sentiments to the court at the sentencing hearing.
Source: The Sudbury Star