Twenty-one-year-old Tyler Nielsen was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs on Thursday, taken into custody for the first time since being released on bail in 2017 as his girlfriend wept.
The widow of the man Nielsen killed while impaired and driving recklessly also sobbed upon hearing the sentence.
Justice Joseph Kenkel handed Nielsen a five-year penitentiary sentence and an eight-year driving ban, calling the young man’s decision to drive impaired that night “selfish and others having to pay a heavy price.”
It was on Nov. 13, 2017, when Stuart Ellis, a 28-year-old father who had just learned he and his wife were pregnant with the couple’s second child, was killed in a head-on collision on Highway 48 near Davis Drive.
In January, Nielsen pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Nielsen was under the influence of alcohol and a cocktail of three drugs including one that would put him to sleep. He was also driving a car that he had stolen from his cousin in the wrong lane of traffic, at a speed in excess of 200 km/h, and there was no evidence he was braking.
Nielsen also lost his license four months earlier after being charged with impaired driving and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act.
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The crown attorney asked for a six-to-eight-year sentence and an eight-year driving ban while the defence asked for five years in prison and a five-year driving ban.
But Justice Kenkel said he took Nielsen’s youthful age, lack of prior criminal record, and mental health issues into account when handing down his sentence.
Sheldon Wisener, Nielsen’s lawyer, told the court his client has battled severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks for most of his life. And the year before his arrest, Neilsen had at least five separate suicide attempts.
“He has no recollection of anything that happened: Driving, the collision, not being taken to hospital,” Wisener said, adding Nielsen’s girlfriend broke up with him the night before the fatal crash.
“He felt he had hit rock bottom.”
Nielsen apologized to the Ellis family in court, looking straight at Ellis’s widow Justine, who sat in the first row of the courtroom.
“I can’t imagine the pain and the suffering I have brought into your lives. I’m so sorry. The worst part is that I took a father away from his children. I am deeply sorry for my actions and I am ready to accept the court’s punishment,” he said.
Bob Healey, Nielsen’s grandfather and a retired police officer from the Toronto Police Service, also addressed the Ellis family.
“The police community — we are like one big family and when one of the family hurts, we are all hurt,” he said.
“Tyler’s not a bad person, but one that needs much guidance and understanding. Tyler, you made a bad decision and will have to live with the consequences.”
Outside of the courthouse, Justine Ellis wiped away tears and said she was still in shock over the sentence.
“I’m still going home to no husband. Stu’s still dead, so it doesn’t fix anything.”
York Regional Police Supt. Graham Turl, Justine’s father, also explained his frustration with the judge’s reasons.
“He says that because Tyler was young, well Stuart was young. Stuart never had a chance to grow old and see his kids,” he said.
“Tyler will still go to jail. He will be out. He won’t serve five years — we know that.”
Justine was just six weeks pregnant with the couple’s second child when Stuart was killed. The baby boy, now eight months old, was in court for much of the day. The couple also have a two-and-a-half-year-old son. Justine vowed to continue the fight against impaired driving and the lenient sentences.