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Eric Lestar sentenced to 4 years for drunk-driving crash that killed Joann Christou

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WATCH ABOVE: Eric Lestar was sentenced to four years and three months in prison Monday, after pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing the death of Joann Christou in circumstances the judge described as "horrendous." Fletcher Kent has more – Dec 11, 2017

A 21-year-old man who caused a collision last year, which left a woman dead in north Edmonton, has been sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

Last month, Eric Lestar pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death in the crash that killed 50-year-old Joann Christou. She was a wife, mother of four and grandmother of three when she died.

The Crown had asked for a five-year prison sentence with a five-year driving prohibition. The defence sought a three-year prison sentence.

The judge ruled there weren’t enough aggravating factors to warrant a full five-year prison sentence but did ban Lestar from driving for five years, during Monday’s sentencing.

READ MORE: Edmonton citizens and police officer recognized for trying to save woman from burning vehicle

Provincial court Judge Larry Anderson said he chose a higher sentence to send a message and deter other people from committing the same mistake Lestar did.

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“All things considered, I think it was a just sentence,” defence lawyer James Raworth said outside the Edmonton Law Courts Monday morning.

“I think he took into consideration all the various factors that made this case unique, and as well as properly applying the law and Judge Anderson is a highly experienced judge, and I’ll say that I’m confident that he came with the right conclusion — a just decision was rendered today.”

Raworth said his client was resigned to his fate, adding he was a “normal, nice, 21-year-old kid” who made a horrible mistake.

“That’s what makes it so tragic is the victim and the accused person are just normal people. They aren’t criminals. They aren’t people that spend their life in the criminal world.”

Family reacts to sentence

Christou’s son Ian Harris said the family was quite pleased with the sentence.

“For most of us, this is what we needed to carry on. This puts an end to waiting to hear and the stresses of dealing with the judicial system,” Harris said, adding personally this is what he needed to finish his healing and carry on with his life.

“My journey has been rough,” Harris said, adding after his mom’s death, he developed severe depression, severe anxiety, a mood disorder, and was diagnosed with PTSD from watching some of the witness videos taken at the scene of the crash.

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“I attempted suicide in May — thankfully I failed. And right now I’m doing actually pretty good. I did the therapy — it works, it helped, and I’m taking care of myself.”

Joann Christou, 50, was killed on Oct. 24 when she was involved in a crash in the area of 97 Street and 160 Avenue. Supplied

Harris said while the family accepts Monday’s outcome, he would like to see minimum sentencing for impaired driving causing death.

“Why we don’t have minimum sentencing and why it’s not harsher is beyond me. It’s illogical and it doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding there’s no excuse for drunk driving because the dangers are so well known.

“Until the public makes statements and goes to their MPs to say, ‘Hey, we need to raise the minimum sentence,’ unfortunately this stuff is going to keep happening. Four years is a drop in the bucket for taking someone’s life.”

What happened on the day of the crash

On Oct. 24, 2016, Christou’s blue Nissan Xterra SUV was heading north on 97 Street near 160 Avenue, when it was struck from behind by a white Infiniti G37 being driven by Lestar.

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READ MORE: Eric Lestar guilty in fiery north Edmonton crash that killed Joann Christou

Before the crash, Lestar had been at a pub a few blocks south of the collision scene, where he had been served three pints of beer. He drank two and a half of them before leaving, according to the agreed statement of facts.

The Crown said the beer contributed to some, but not all of the alcohol in Lestar’s system. The statement of facts said the bar — Jox’s Taphouse and Grill — was not able to provide police with any business records or surveillance video showing how much he drank there.

After leaving the bar, Lestar drove north on 97 Street, cutting off vehicles in the afternoon rush hour traffic as he merged from the left to the right side of the three-lane road.

He had just passed the 160 Avenue intersection when his speeding car came up behind Christou’s SUV. He attempted to swerve around her, but other vehicles were in the way. At that point, the two vehicles collided.

Joann Christou, 50, was killed in a crash in the area of 160 Avenue and 97 Street Monday, Oct. 24, 2016.
Joann Christou, 50, was killed in a crash in the area of 160 Avenue and 97 Street Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. Courtesy, Diana Issa

The speed limit on the section of road where the crash happened is 70 km/h. The Crown said witnesses estimate Lestar’s vehicle was driving between 100km/h and 120 km/h.

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The Crown said Lestar never slowed down before the collision, as there were no skid or tire marks on the pavement and witnesses never saw his brake lights turn on.

After colliding, the Nissan caught fire and both vehicles veered into the ditch, where Christou became trapped as the vehicle caught on fire. Several witnesses said the injured woman was on fire and screaming for help as the flames spread through the vehicle.

READ MORE: Police blocking off north Edmonton street to investigate fatal October crash

Several bystanders and an Edmonton police officer who came upon the scene attempted to save her. They tried to use fire extinguishers, but the flames were too fierce. One person even tried to use a knife to cut the vehicle open, but it was too late.

Christou was pronounced dead at the scene. The medical examiner determined Christou suffered a serious neck injury in the crash and her death was attributed to multiple injuries, not the fire.

It’s believed the significant second- and third-degree burns found on her body happened after she died, which the medical examiner believes happened shortly after the fire broke out.

Paramedics arrived on scene to find Lestar sprawled across the front seats of his car, with his feet on the driver side and his head on the passenger seat.

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The Crown said paramedics and police could smell alcohol on Lestar’s breath from several feet away and noticed he had bloodshot eyes. They described him as being in good spirits and laughing as he was being treated.

Lestar was taken to Royal Alexandra Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. He had fractured ribs, a broken left foot, a bruised lung, and some cuts on his wrist and head.

While in hospital, Lestar initially agreed to give a blood sample, but later refused the police order when the physician showed up. Samples had been taken while he was being treated though, and police obtained a warrant to seize those.

Lestar’s blood alcohol level between 179 to 211 milligrams of alcohol/100 mL of blood — almost three times the legal limit. The Crown says his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol and was the cause of the collision that killed Christou.

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