Drunk driver sentenced to two years in jail for killing man on sidewalk in Courtenay

Drunk driver sentenced to two years in jail for killing man on sidewalk in Courtenay

The aftermath of the fatal Courtenay crash on July 26, 2016. File photo.

The aftermath of the fatal Courtenay crash on July 26, 2016. File photo.

The woman who struck and killed Buenaventura Bernard on a Courtenay sidewalk and injured two others back in 2016 has been sentenced to 25 months in prison.

According to a judgment released Monday, Serina-Marie Anne Laliberte, who is now 49, was sentenced in December to 25 months for one count of driving with a blood alcohol content over 0.08 causing death and 18 months for two counts of driving with a blood alcohol content over 0.08 causing bodily harm. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Court found that just before 2 p.m. on July 26, 2016, Laliberte, who was 46 at the time, was driving a Nissan Pathfinder into Courtenay. After stopping her SUV at a traffic light on Cliffe Avenue, she then sped away from the light and drove up onto a sidewalk where Bernard was walking with his wife Margarita. Bernard was struck then thrown into the windshield.

Laliberte then drove back onto Cliffe Avenue and rear-ended a vehicle Max MacInnes was driving. MacInnes was stopped at a traffic light. His vehicle then rear-ended a car driven by Nicole Dauphinais. MacInnes and Dauphinais were injured in the crash.

Laliberte then swerved off the road into a parking lot and hit two parked vehicles. The two passengers in the pathfinder testified that before Laliberte accelerated, she went stiff and stared straight forward. When she was driving from the traffic light to the parking lot, one of the two passengers  in the Nissan Pathfinder tried to pull Laliberte’s leg away from the accelerator but was not successful. The passengers also testified Laliberte would not respond to physical touch or to them yelling at her until after the vehicle stopped.

When police arrived at the scene of the crash, they smelled liquor on Laliberte’s breath. She was arrested for impaired driving causing death after failing a breath sample. After arriving at the Comox Valley RCMP detachment, she gave two other breath samples, which revealed a blood-alcohol concentration of .12 and .10. The legal limit is .08.

Laliberte told police she had one drink and was also a diabetic. She said she had no recollection of the collisions.

Justice Jeanne Watchuk heard victim-impact statements from Bernard’s family during the sentencing hearing on Feb. 28.

“The emotions from their ongoing intense loss cannot be described in words, as his daughter, Caroline Bernard, said,” Watchuk said.

“The words of the family tell of a nightmare of profound inconsolable grief.  In an instant, an inexplicable event deprived Mrs. Bernard of her life companion of 41 years and their plans and dreams for their future together.  Caroline was deprived of her beloved father who was about to become a grandfather to her daughter born four months later.  Caroline and her brother Paul both learned of their father’s death when they were out of town, on a course in Ucleulet and camping with friends in the Kootenays.  Paul spoke of returning to Courtenay and finding the courage to continue, bereft without his father.  The tragic collision not only killed Mr. Bernard but also devastated his family.”

Dauphinais told the court she has ongoing panic attacks, and constant pain from injuries to her neck, back and shoulder.

Laliberte’s lawyer read a letter of apology to Margarita at the hearing. She also expressed remorse to the court, repeating through sobs that she is very sorry.

Prior to the crash, Laliberte has no criminal record or driving record. She has complied with her bail conditions and has no breaches. She works as a health-care aid, has not had a drink since the crash and has attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She said she was willing to attend further addiction services.

She has not driven a vehicle since the crash. She said her licence has lapsed and she has no interested in renewing it.

However, the judge said one aggravating factor is Laliberte knew about her drinking problem prior to the crash and her friends had expressed concern, but she had not dealt with it.

Watchuk acknowledged Laliberte’s “immediate and since” remorse and her disadvantaged background. Watchuk said  Laliberte was deprived of a stable upbringing and a good role model due to her father’s alcoholism and his abuse of her mother. But Watchuk said Laliberte is to blame for making the choice to drive, even after friend has offered to drive them to the lake.

“Ms. Laliberte had consumed between 8 to 10 ounces of vodka before getting behind the wheel of her vehicle at 1:40 p.m.  She had not eaten, nor had she taken her diabetes medication.  Her decision to drive exhibited reckless disregard for the law and the potential consequences, tragically realized, of driving with a BAC over .08,” Watchuk said.

Laliberte is also banned from driving for five years after she is released.

With files from Louise Dickson, Times Colonist 

Alexa HuffmanAlexa Huffman

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