A Greater Sudbury Police officer did not act too hastily in laying an impaired driving charge against a former city man involved in a single-vehicle crash, a judge has ruled.
“Const. (Chris) Hart had solid grounds to request a breath sample,” said Justice Andre Guay in his decision in the trial of Daniel Stargratt, 44. “The facts of the case indicate clearly that the police officers who dealt with the accused did that in a fair and proper manner. At no time did they ignore or abuse his Charter (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) rights.”
Guay subsequently accepted a joint sentencing submission from the Crown and local lawyer Glenn Sandberg (representing Toronto lawyer Irwin Isenstein, who specializes in drinking and driving offences). As a result, Stargratt, who had no prior record, was fined $1,000 and had his driver’s licence suspended for one year.
Stargratt, formerly of Sudbury, now lives in Red Rock in northwestern Ontario.
Stargratt is the principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Manitouwadge. The school is run by the Superior North Catholic District School Board.
In his decision, Guay said that when Const. Hart arrived at the crash scene about 12:40 a.m. March 25, 2015, he found Stargratt behind the wheel, an airbag deployed and no one else in the vehicle.
When Hart asked Stargratt if he had had anything to drink, said Guay, Stargratt replied “too f’n much.”
“Const. Hart quickly took into account what was in front of him,” said the judge. “What he had was an accident, not from negligent driving, but an accident resulting from impaired driving of a motor vehicle.”
The three-day trial was held on various dates in 2016.
Five witnesses took the stand, including civilians Joey Leblanc and Joseph Racine-Bouchard, who were first to arrive at the crash scene, and Stargratt himself.
The court heard Stargratt provided Intoxilyzer readings of 160 and 150, the first reading being double the legal allowable level of 80.
In his closing submissions Sept. 13, Isenstein said Hart should have cautioned Stargratt he was investigating a motor vehicle accident and cautioned him about anything he might say. He said Hart should have done more investigating before laying the impaired driving charge.
The charge, said the lawyer, was laid within a minute of arriving on the scene and after Hart asked the question “were you driving?” to which Stargratt replied he had.
“Without that statement, the Crown loses its case on the over 80,” said Isenstein. “Even though drinking and driving is a serious issue in our society, people who drink and drive still have rights … The law requires that certain prerequisites are met prior to the taking of the breach samples and the arresting officer must have reasonable and probable grounds to arrest and take breath samples.”
Isenstein said Stargratt, as shown in a videotape shot at the police station, appeared coherent and had no issues with balance. He said Stargratt told officers his odd behaviour at the crash scene was due being stunned by the activation of an airbag and its chemicals.
Isenstein said Stargratt had to grab onto his car door to get out of the damaged vehicle because it was slippery.
Assistant Crown attorney Julie Lefebvre said when Const. Hart arrived at the crash scene, he found Stargratt slouched over the steering wheel of the car and it was only after activating emergency lighting that Stargratt sat up.
Lefebvre said Hart also asked Stargratt first if he was alone and if he was unhurt before asking if he had been driving.
“The officer is entitled to investigate a crime,” she said. “The officer is there to investigate a collision … He wanted to make sure nobody was hurt … It’s consistent with what he said (to Stargratt).”
Lefebvre said Stargratt testified he had consumed two or three drinks prior to the crash and that he did not measure the exact amount of alcohol in making them.
Lefebvre said Racine-Bouchard’s testimony that he felt Stargratt was drunk was his opinion based on life experience.
“He said (Stargratt) was slurring his words and based (his opinion) on his general demeanor – ‘I’ve seen drunk people before and to me he was intoxicated,'” said the assistant Crown attorney.
Lefebvre also said that when Leblanc and Racine-Bouchard arrived on the scene and checked Stargratt, he told them “I’m OK. Just tow me out of here and don’t call the police.”
It was the two men who called 911 to report the crash, Lefebvre said.
The assistant Crown attorney concluded that “a constellation of factors” has to be considered when looking at the case, including the fact that a motor vehicle accident occurred, that Stargratt was found behind the wheel by the two civilians and that Stargratt exhibited signs of drinking.
Source: The Sudbury Star