It was an extremely emotional day in court for not one but three families who lost teenage sons as the result of a single collision in Saskatchewan.
On Tuesday, a sentencing hearing was held for Winnipeg’s Normand Lavoie, 41, who caused the catastrophic crash. He pleaded guilty to the crime in May.
Arguments inside Melfort’s Court of Queen’s Bench centered around how and why this tragic collision may have happened, the defence telling court that we may never know the answer to those questions.
The Crown submitted Lavoie was being reckless the day of the crash, and the defence disagreeing saying Lavoie was in a state of inattentiveness and sleep deprived when he killed the three teens and seriously injured a flag person on May 3, 2015.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Lavoie did not reduce his speed that day when entering the construction zone set up approximately eight kilometres south of Spalding, Sask.
There he struck the vehicle 17-year old Carter Stevenson, 15-year old Kristian Skalicky, and 14-year old Justin Gaja, were in on their way home from a football camp.
Lavoie was travelling at a minimum speed of 84 kilometres per hour in his semi loaded with foam insulation panels and there was no evidence of skid marks before the collision happened.
The Crown argued because of the number of fatalities, injuries and a prior .08 charge on Lavoie’s record that he should get six years in a federal penitentiary.
“Just because he wasn’t impaired at the time doesn’t excuse what happened here or from the Crown’s perspective doesn’t lighten the sentence he should receive,” senior Crown prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk said.
“Members of the Saskatchewan public who drive on our highways deserve to feel safe and the people who work in construction zones also deserve to feel safe.”
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The families of the teens who were present in court to provide victim impact statements, including Justin Gaja’s which said they will always love their son, therefore the pain of his loss will always remain in their hearts.
“The simple pleasure of being happy is no longer in our lives. The memories of Justin are so sweet then I realize he’s gone.”
“This would have been an excruciating process for them on top of the grief that they’re already trying to manage with every single day,” Olenchuk said.
There was another revelation in court put forth by the defence who said his client knows precisely how the victims feel.
The anguish they have today is all too familiar to Lavoie after his mother and grandmother were killed in a collision more than two decades ago after being struck by a semi.
“This case is just tragic all over because it’s ruined multiple lives and there’s nothing we can do to change that,” Michael Nolin, defence lawyer for Lavoie, said.
Nolin argued for two years plus a day and said his client’s DUI has little relevance since Lavoie received it when he was 16. Nolin added, though his client’s guilty plea in this case came later in the process, it still had merit.
“I don’t see Mr. Lavoie deflecting responsibility at all – actions speak louder than words.”
According to Nolin, his client was in autopilot that day and admitted to police he was groggy at the time of the crash. After the collision, he was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea and admitted to feeling drowsy in passive situations.
“He can’t say whether or not he was asleep and legally there’s no way to prove whether or not he was asleep.”
When asked if he would like to speak, Lavoie addressed the court and said he was truly sorry for what he had done and that is was an accident.
“I’m never going to forget them.”
He wept while speaking for several minutes and asked the families and God to forgive him before returning to the prisoners’ box.
The judge in this case reserved her decision and will hand down a sentence to Lavoie on Sept. 11.