Judge's gavel behind the scale of justice.
“I want you to know how deeply remorseful I am for the hurt I caused you,” Hoag, 20, of Simcoe said as he turned in Ontario Court on Wednesday and faced about a dozen members of the family of Derek Butler, the best friend who died when the car Hoag was driving lost control on an “S” curve on Highway 53, west of Burford, on May 24, 2016.

Hoag pleaded guilty in June to impaired driving causing death.

Fighting for composure, Hoag read a statement in which he said he is prepared to do anything that consoles the Butler family.

“Mr. and Mrs. Butler, I am grateful for your expression of forgiveness,” he continued.

“I pray to God every day to give strength to all the people affected by my terrible decision.”

Hoag’s statement capped a sentencing hearing marked by submissions from assistant Crown attorney William Dorsey and defence attorney Jamie Pereira and victim impact statements read by Butler’s parents, Robert and Stephanie, his maternal grandparents and his sister, Tia. Various letters of support attesting to Butler’s good character also were read.

In a joint submission to Justice Robert Gee, Dorsey said that a “five-year sentence would not be too harsh, but anything less would be too lenient.”

He said that such a sentence “demonstrates the public’s abhorrence of drinking and driving offences.”

Although a sentence of four to five years may be considered on the upper end for a first-time offender, Dorsey said it is important that it show not just general deterrence but also society’s denunciation of people who drive drunk and kill.

“Mr. Hoag has stepped up, accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty to an offence that had tragic consequences for his friend and his family.”

But Dorsey expressed his dismay that, despite repeated public campaigns, there are still too many instances of people getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while impaired.

At about 3 a.m. on May 24, 2016, Hoag, then 19, was at the wheel of his sister’s car with Butler, also of Simcoe, in the passenger seat, court was told.

Despite signs warning of a left curve on Highway 53, the car travelled straight. Hoag swerved, over-corrected and swerved again but was unable to control the car, which struck a tree and burst into flames.

Butler, who was three weeks away from his 22nd birthday, died of multiple injuries and smoke inhalation, according to a medical examiner’s report.

Hoag had scrapes and small burns.

In a victim impact statement read by Dorsey, Butler’s mother, Stephanie, said there are no words to describe her feelings of loss.

“I can forgive. That is what I am supposed to do,” she said.

“But I will never forget.”

She said Derek had his whole life ahead of him.

“There is a huge hole in my heart that will never heal.”

She said she hopes people will take from her son’s death the devastation that drinking and driving can wreak on a family.

Derek’s sister, Tia, said she must live with the “cold reality that my brother is never coming home.”

She said she hopes Hoag will learn from his mistake.

“My brother is just as guilty,” she said.

While he wasn’t driving that night, “he knew the risk” in choosing to be in a car with an impaired driver behind the wheel, she said.

“I pray to God every day that Jake will use that second chance to do good,” she said.

Pereira forwarded several letters of support for Hoag from his family and friends.

“I can tell you Mr. Hoag is deeply remorseful,” Pereira told Gee, adding that he hoped the sentence is not “crushing” so he can rebuild his life.

He noted from a report that Hoag is suffering an extreme level of anxiety and has post-traumatic stress disorder from the collision.

Hoag has started to clean up his act, going to counselling without a court order, Pereira noted.

But he sometimes has to cancel appointments due to this PTSD.

Pereira also presented a letter from a doctor expressing concerns that a lengthy sentence could have a negative effect on Hoag’s mental health.

Gee will deliver his sentence on Oct. 24.

Source: Brantford Expositor