The dining room, where family dinners took place daily, has remained empty since Melissa Hill’s husband was killed in a drunk driving collision in July.
Unable to sit down to eat, Hill recounted how empty and lost her family is without Chris Harper, 50, during her victim impact statement Tuesday in the Ontario Court of Justice in Milton.
Tears streaked down her face – and the faces of nearly everyone in court – as she described her Oakville family’s grief since losing her beloved soul mate, the father of their five children ages four to 14, to Justice Alan Cooper during the sentencing hearing for Michelle Maisey, 34.
Harper was also a well-liked history and economics teacher at Mississauga’s Meadowvale Secondary School. Some 750 people attended his funeral, including several students.
Considering the time served since she has been incarcerated, Cooper, who noted the driver’s blood alcohol readings were 170 and 180 – “significantly high readings,” — sentenced Maisey to an additional four years and 180 days in prison (amounting to more than five years). She is also banned from driving for 10 years.
“The family will never have him back again…I understand the devastation in that family,” he said in his judgment. “You wouldn’t think that (Maisey), a mother, that she’d be involved in something like this with not even a speeding conviction (in her past). Now she’s going to the penitentiary and her life will be changed drastically as a result.
“I can’t get over what happened here…it could be me, it could be any one of us,” he said. “This left a hole in your lives and in Miss Maisey’s life, too.
“It’s a sad day for everybody involved.”
A pre-sentence report described that the Oakville mother of three was driving her vehicle southbound on Milton’s Tremaine Road, south of Lower Base Line, when she struck and killed Harper as he was riding his bike around 9 p.m. on July 3. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
On November 12, Maisey pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death and fail to stop at the scene of an accident involving death. She has been in jail at Vanier Centre for Women for several weeks.
Crown Attorney Amanda Camara had sought a six-year sentence, citing several recent cases that saw higher sentences were upheld by the Superior Court to send a message that impaired driving is not tolerated.
She told court that Maisey made the choice to drive and the consequences were enormous.
“She ignored the warnings of others not to drive,” Camara said. “Friends had called for and paid for a taxi to take her home, and she deceived them by walking back into the bar and through the back door to her vehicle.
“She was texting at the time of the accident, and she left the scene, despite significant damage to her car.”
Court records show that Maisey fled the scene thinking she had hit a construction pylon. She made a u-turn on Tremaine Road to drive past the scene again. Upon her return she slowed, but did not stop her vehicle, driving away instead.
An eyewitness obtained her licence plate and called 9-1-1, then stopped to help Harper. Maisey was located and arrested by police about 30 minutes later.
Investigation revealed that she had sent several text messages on her phone while driving, prior to and at the time of the collision.
Defence attorney Peter Scully asked Maisey to read a letter she had written several months ago, in court Tuesday.
The petite, blonde woman, handcuffed and visibly upset, in the prisoner’s box, said “the words I’m sorry are grossly inadequate. I’ve anguished for weeks searching for any words that could possibly ever convey my remorse, guilt and sadness.
“I wish I had the power to take this tragedy from the pages of your story,” she told Harper’s family. “I believe in the wake of my circumstance, I am still a good woman, an ordinary soul, with a now-extraordinary burden.”
Maisey wiped tears from her eyes as she listened to Harper’s wife recount all that she had lost when Harper died.
In her victim impact statement, Hill told court that she had met Harper after her first marriage ended in divorce.
“Being loved by him made me my best self,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for a new friend, but he dazzled my mind.
“We built a life together and made plans for the future.
“For two months (after his death) I got by on half a diet Coke and sheer determination to get through the day,” she said.
“I now rely on frozen foods and rarely cook dinner or bake…we all used to eat holding hands,” she said, of the dining room table. “We’ve eaten there three times since…it’s the symbol of family coming together.”
She said this is the first year her children haven’t taken swimming lessons in September because they’re too busy with grief counselling and learning to live without their father.
“The sheer number of mourners was both comforting and overwhelming,” she said, explaining how she now parents as one, instead of two.
She said conversation comes to a halt when she and her children are driving and they pass a cyclist on the road.
“They say, ‘They’re riding for daddy because he can’t anymore.'”
The bicycles inside the family’s garage went unused this past summer — something that would never happen, normally.
She said she has had to re-tell her youngest son Joseph many times that his father isn’t coming home because he is too young to understand, while her 14-year-old, Luke, worries constantly about her, asking her if she ate today.
“Alison turned five a month after her dad died and I didn’t make a cake and I felt horribly guilty, we had a store-bought one.”
She recalled how Alison had reminded Harper of his own father, who died after a heart attack when he was 11 years old. Harper had regularly biked to stay healthy so that history did not repeat itself.
Financially, Hill said the family was eight years from paying off the mortgage on their Oakville home and how she had to remortgage it and will be making payments for another 25 years. She doesn’t know how she’ll save for post-secondary education for five children. Retirement, which once seemed close, is now many years away.
“His pictures are in every room; his stories and sayings are everywhere…his shoes are still in the closet, his side of the bed is empty.
“We are all waiting; we will always be waiting. We didn’t get to say goodbye. We have to make do. We are so much less and so lost without him.”
Echoing her words in the second of three victim impact statements read to court — six others were filed — was Blain Adams, who was friends with Harper for 35 years. He was his history teacher at Lord Elgin Secondary School in Burlington.
When Harper went to university, they exchanged letters and their relationship changed from a teacher-student to a friendship. He was thrilled when Harper met Hill and they married, and Adams would often babysit the children, who he described as “beautiful and respectful.”
“This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me and it’s left a hole in my life,” he cried. “I can’t imagine the family’s pain or what Melissa is living through.”
Harper’s brother also spoke, on behalf of himself and Chris’ mother Nancy.
“Chris was the one who read my father’s letters and journals,” he said, adding he finds it difficult to forgive the accused.
“Leaving him to die alone… I’m most damaged by that.”
He said he has had to retell his mother, who lives with Alzheimer’s, that her youngest son is dead.
“She wept anew each time.”
Maisey’s common-law partner Gerry Groen, was the only family member present to support her in court. He wept openly as he told the court how big a loss his family is feeling since her incarceration.
“We are blessed that she is still here, but we are forever burdened,” he said. “I do apologize from the bottom of our hearts and we are sorry.”
Canadian Milton Champion
Source: The Hamilton Spectator