B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce sentenced Aaron Forrest in Nanaimo to 3.5 years for dangerous driving causing death, and six months for leaving the scene of an accident. She also prohibited him from driving for 10 years.
Forrest, 33, was behind the wheel of a speeding pickup that struck a small car driven by Crystal Ashworth, 42, and carrying C.J. Somers, 22, as it pulled out onto the Trans Canada from the Juniper Café in Cassidy on Dec. 11, 2005.
Ashworth died at the scene.Somers died in hospital.
“I thought he wasn’t going to get as much as he did,” said Ashworth’s sister, Rose Brenner, after the sentencing.
“It’s over now, so we’ve got to go on,” added Brenner, who is looking after Ashworth’s daughter.
The Crown was seeking the maximum sentence of five years in prison. In making the case for a lesser sentence, Forrest’s lawyer noted the man’s relatively young age, guilty plea, supportive friends and family, and the fact that investigators had not proven drugs were a factor.
Justice Bruce said she was impressed with Forrest’s efforts in seeking treatment and his “incredible progress,” noting Forrest aims to become a good role model for his newborn daughter.
But Bruce found Forrest had high moral culpability in the deaths of Ashworth and Somers, noting that his was not a momentary lapse in judgment, as he had “essentially driven like a maniac for 45 minutes” before colliding with the women.
His culpability was exacerbated by the fact that he knew Somers and Ashworth were seriously injured when he attempted to evade responsibility for the collision by fleeing the scene.
She said Forrest had many opportunities to change his behaviour but prior punishments appeared to have little impact.
Before being charged with the deaths of the two women, Forrest had been convicted of dangerous driving, driving without insurance, possession of narcotics, assault, fraud, and other driving-related infractions.
The judge made reference to the impact of the victims’ deaths on their families as she handed down sentencing. She noted Ashworth’s husband of 22 years is now under psychiatric care, and her 15 year-old daughter has yet to speak of her mother’s death.
“C.J.’s death is a tragedy that really has no boundaries,” she said.
A passenger in Forrest’s truck also left the scene and was later located in Duncan but was never charged with any crimes. It is not illegal for a passenger to leave the scene of an accident.
Forrest’s mother, Laurie Chapman, said she is proud of her son for taking responsibility for his actions and attempting to make amends.
“It’s been tough for us too but not nearly as tough as losing a child,” Chapman said.
The judge gave Forrest double credit for the eight months and nine days already served.
Forrest was initially denied bail and remained in custody until a judge released him following a third bail hearing in August 2006, on the condition Forest post a $25,000 surety, live with his parents in Duncan and only leave the residence accompanied by a family member. The bail judge also stipulated Forrest must follow a curfew and abstain from alcohol and drugs.