A Bruderheim man was sentenced to two years less a day in prison on Friday, after being found guilty in a dangerous driving case that resulted in the 2016 death of a Fort McMurray mother.
Todd Lewis Lambert, 51, will also be banned from driving for five years after being released.
Lambert was behind the wheel of a Mercedes C240 car that slammed into the back of Natalie Anne Hawkins’ Mazda SUV at a speed of more than 200 kilometres an hour on the evening of May 20, 2016.
Hawkins, a 43-year-old mother of two, was an evacuee from the Fort McMurray wildfire and was driving to a newly-rented home in Fort Saskatchewan when the crash happened.
Lambert initially pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death on Nov. 27, 2018, but then fired two lawyers and tried to get his plea reversed. Lambert said he had a seizure before getting behind the wheel, and that he has no recollection of the crash.
An agreed statement of facts stated Lambert was medically forbidden from driving at the time due to seizures, but got behind the wheel after smoking marijuana.
A medical report said he needed to be seizure-free for at least six months before he could get his licence back, and the earliest that could have happened would have been June 27, 2016.
Court heard Lambert had a seizure behind the wheel, and was seen by both RCMP and witnesses driving fast, with one account of him going 150 km/h in a 70 km/h zone.
He also blew through a red light, the agreed statement of facts said.
Lambert had marijuana on him when he was arrested and admitted to RCMP to smoking before driving and also knowing he wasn’t allowed to drive.
“I don’t even know how I left Bruderheim. I don’t know how I got into my car and went for a drive,” Lambert said in court last month while trying to convince Queen’s Bench Justice James Neilson to let him withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.
Neilson threw out the application to revoke Lambert’s guilty plea and moved ahead with the sentencing hearing.
During sentencing, Neilson said Lambert did not intend to cause Natalie Hawkins’ death.
“He posed a grave danger to the public, to anyone on the road while he was driving. The consequences of this decision were horrific.”
Neilson also said he wanted “to make it clear that Mr. Lambert is not being punished because he has a medical condition.”
Court heard Lambert was injured in a work accident at the age 19 and worked as a power engineer. Twenty-two years after the accident, he said he started getting seizures and a neurologist said he shouldn’t drive. He had a minor criminal record for two offences more than 25 years ago.
During sentencing, court heard Lambert is single with no children, and is estranged from his father, has infrequent contact with his mom, is close to his brother and unsure where his sister is.
Neilson said Hawkins’ death has been devastating to her family.
The judge read parts of victim impact statements from Hawkins’ mother, her husband, her son, her twin sister and niece.
“Her husband Keen has lost the love of his life,” Neilson said.
“Natalie will never be able to see, with great pride, her children graduate — or her grandchildren.”
Hawkins’ sister found the loss unfathomable and her mom said it was a cruel blow no parent should ever have to bear.
Outside court after the sentence was handed down Friday, Hawkins’ mother Hilda and sister Nicole said the world lost a good soul that day.
“She was beautiful. She had a big heart, a big soul,” Nicole said. “She helped everybody out during the Fort McMurray fires. She couldn’t even find her own and she’s helping kids find their parents.
“She would go above and beyond to help anybody.”
“She was the heart and soul of our family, literally. Everybody had troubles in the family, they’d call Natalie,” her mother Hilda said, adding her daughter had a strong personality.
“She was very sensible. She knew exactly where she was going, she knew exactly what she had to do — that’s the kind of person she was.”
The Crown had asked for three years in prison followed by a five-year driving prohibition. Lambert, who represented himself, did not request a specific sentence.
Neilson said dangerous driving causing death usually results in a sentence of 18 months to 30 months when a guilty plea is entered.
The family said it is relieved to finally have closure after nearly four years.
“I was hoping for more,” Hilda said. “But at least he’s gone and he’s gonna pay something for what he’s done.”
Hilda said she’s lost her siblings to cancer and husband to heart disease, but the suddenness of her daughter’s death ripped a hole in her heart that will never heal.
“The fact that he’s going to jail for two years doesn’t stop the pain. It doesn’t really stop the pain of losing your child.”
Sister Nicole took comfort knowing she wouldn’t see Lambert in their community.
“When you live in the same town it’s really hard to see him walking free and clear knowing the person you love is not there anymore. It’s really hard to take, so it’s going to be nice not to see him around anymore.”
She doesn’t think the sentence is tough enough.
“I think he should never be able to drive again, personally,” Nicole said, calling for tougher impaired driving laws. “I think if you kill somebody you should automatically lose your licence for life.”
“It’s a car used instead of a gun but the end result’s the same. They’re gone.”
Hawkins’ death and Lambert having smoked cannabis were aggravating factors in the sentence, while mitigating factors were his minor criminal record, the fact he pleaded guilty, but then changed his mind, and that he followed his interim release orders.
Lambert told court in January his case had taken too long and invoked the Jordan Decision — which set deadlines of 18 months for provincial court trials and 30 months in superior court.
The Crown argued neither a Jordan application nor a NCR (Not Criminally Responsible) application should be heard at a sentencing hearing.
Lambert previously said he planned to appeal the court’s decision.
“Go ahead and appeal, but as the Crown Prosecutor said, that’s why they did two years less a day — because then it’s a lesser sentence and the chances of the appeal board looking at it are going to be slim to none,” Nicole Hawkins said.
Fort Saskatchewan and Bruderheim are northeast of Edmonton.
— With files from Sarah Ryan and Emily Mertz, Global News