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Crown recommends 7 to 8 years for drunk driver who killed 2 Centennial students

Click to play video: 'Pickering man pleads guilty to impaired driving causing the death of 2 college students' Pickering man pleads guilty to impaired driving causing the death of 2 college students
WATCH ABOVE (January 2021): A Pickering man has pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing the death of two Centennial College students. Michael Johnson admitted to driving more than 100 km/h over the speed limit. Catherine McDonald reports – Jan 6, 2021

The crown is recommending seven to eight years in prison for a Pickering man who killed two Centennial College students while driving drunk three days before Christmas in 2019.

Michael Johnson had pleaded guilty to six charges including two counts of impaired driving causing death, two counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and one count of dangerous operation causing bodily harm.

Crown attorney Joshua Levy also recommended a DNA order and a 12-year driving ban.

Read more: Pickering man pleads guilty to impaired driving causing death of 2 Centennial College students

The defence recommended four to six years with credit for time served. Lawyer Adam Newman said Johnson spent roughly four months in custody after his arrest and asked for 1.5 times credit for those months served for a total of six months.

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Justice Jennifer Strasberg oversaw the proceedings.

Weijie Zhu Li and Damir Kussain, both 19-year-old international students at Centennial College’s Progress Campus from China and Kazakhstan, were killed and Zhu Li’s 21-year-old brother suffered serious head injuries when they were struck while walking back to residence on Dec. 22, 2019.

Johnson was driving to meet his wife after having several drinks and food at Jack Astor’s restaurant with co-workers from Canada Post, where he was employed. He suffered only minor injuries as a result of the collision.

Read more: Friends of Centennial College students killed by alleged impaired driver reflect

Levy pointed to a number of reasons for his recommendation including Johnson having no prior criminal record and the fact that he presents as a low-risk of being a repeat offender. He also pointed to the fact that Johnson has expressed remorse for his actions.

However, Levy also pointed to Johnson’s high level of intoxication – an estimated blood alcohol concentration between 120 to 170 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, how he was driving in excess of 160 kilometres an hour in a 50 kilometre per hour zone and killed two people and injured another.

The sentence must send a message of “denunciation and deterrence,” said Levy.

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The defence put forth the submission that Johnson was battling mental illness and planned to take his own life that night but did not plan to hurt anyone else in the process.

Levy did not deny the notion that Johnson aimed to take his own life, however, he said it is an aggravating factor in the case rather than a mitigating one.

Levy referenced a psychologist’s report on Johnson and the mental health issues alluded to in it, saying “what jumps out of the page at you … is that when Mr. Johnson got behind the wheel of the car, he was in such a rage with his wife or so distraught … that he actually drove deliberately in the manner that he did with the intention of causing a wreck to take his own life.”

“Whether you believe that was his intention to end his own life … what in my submission makes this an aggravating circumstance, is the fact that he drove fast deliberately, virtually with the expectation he was going to cause a wreck, without regard and he could foresee that he could seriously injure or kill someone else in the process.

“This is a serious aggravating circumstance that raises his moral blameworthiness,” Levy continued.

Read more: 2 Centennial College students killed in Toronto crash involving alleged impaired driver

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Newman disputed Levy’s sentiment, saying the fact that Johnson was looking to commit suicide should not be an aggravating factor but rather a mitigating factor.

“To suggest attempted suicide makes it more morally culpable … is shocking to me,” Newman said.

The defence went on to say Johnson was dealing with a lot of different stressors in his life at the time including death of family members, depression, marital discord and exhaustion among other things.

“He couldn’t take it any longer and he tried to end his life. There wasn’t a lot of thought in this, he certainly didn’t contemplate hurting anyone else, only himself,” Newman said.

Johnson never wanted a trial and always intended to plead guilty, Newman said. Johnson also has not taken a drink or done any illegal substances since the incident, his lawyer continued. He said Johnson is also a community volunteer and a church-goer.

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The three students were walking back to the residence where they lived along Progress Avenue, just east of Markham Road, around 6:30 p.m. when the 2014 Mazda 3 Johnson was driving mounted the curb, and struck the three young men.

Weijie and Damir were pronounced dead at the scene. Jun Jie suffered serious head injuries including lacerations to his face that required stitches to close.

Johnson was present for the hearing, sitting on a couch wearing a black mask as his lawyer mentioned he had several supporters with him that required social distancing measures to be put in place.

Members of both families chose not to be in the virtual courtroom due to disturbing videos of the incident submitted by the crown, which were shown during the hearing. Family members will be delivering impact statements at another hearing on April 29.

 

The crown played two videos during the submissions. One was surveillance video of Johnson travelling down Progress Avenue at a high rate of speed.

The second video, which was disturbing in nature, was dashcam footage from a vehicle that captured Johnson’s vehicle striking the victims as well as the immediate aftermath.

Johnson could be seen becoming visibly upset while watching said videos.

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