Parents of a young woman killed in a rural rollover expressed outrage and anger, after the man accused in their daughter’s death made a plea deal.
The crash northeast of Cremona killed 19-year-old Kendra Cole nearly two years ago.
The accused, Travis Hettinger was charged with criminal negligence causing death and impaired driving, after losing control of his truck on a curve on a gravel road.
But on Thursday in Didsbury Provincial Court, Hettinger pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death.
The Crown now plans to drop the impaired charges, enraging Cole’s parents, who won’t get more answers about their daughter’s death.
“The judicial system — that you can plea bargain down to a lesser charge — we have no input,” said Bruce Cole, Kendra’s father. “We would have preferred that this to have gone to trial.”
The lawyer defending Hettinger says even though it’s known he had four drinks in a Cremona tavern on the night of the crash, it’s not enough to establish legal impairment.
“It’s all based on facts, and what can be proven, and in this case there’s limited amount of things that can be proven,” said Balfour Der. “We put in some facts and it’s clear they can’t establish what my client’s drinking pattern was, so there’s no proof he was impaired.”
A roadside memorial marks the spot on Range Road 35 where the pickup truck Cole and Hettinger were in came to rest on its roof, trapping the pair.
Both were airlifted to hospital, and Cole died nine days later.
According to friends, everybody liked being around her.
“I still think about her every day (and) I miss her incredibly,” said Summer Young.
“She’s with me every day, she’s with us, we think about her,” added Morgan Lynn, another friend. “She’s not here in body with us, but she’s here in mind every day.”
A victim’s rights group says this case, and other plea deals, point to the need for minimum sentences.
“Our federal government absolutely has to start taking this number one crime seriously and put in mandatory minimums for this crime,” said Sheri Arsenault, with Families For Justice. “It’s heart breaking… The sentences that are being handed out now do not act as a deterrent whatsoever.”
Cole’s parents would like to see a justice system that works for family and friends of victims.
“(The) judicial system has some serious flaws,” Bruce Cole said. “We are not classified as victims, Kendra was a victim, so we have very little limited information as to what was going on …We come to court to find out just like anybody else. We have no rights.”
Sentencing arguments will be heard in June.
The range for dangerous driving causing death is no time in jail to fourteen years in prison.