Drunk driver who killed 2 Centennial College students sentenced to 6 years in prison

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: 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

A Pickering man who got behind the wheel of his car drunk and drove at excessive speeds, killing two teenaged international students studying at Centennial College and seriously injuring the sibling of one of those killed, has been sentenced to six years in prison and has received a 10-year driving ban after he’s released from the penitentiary.

“Time and again, the combination of drinking and driving produces deadly consequences in our city, our province and our country and still an intolerable number of people continue to drink and drive,” Madam Justice Deanna Strasberg said.

Forty-one-year-old Michael Johnson, who was wearing a black suit and black mask, listened as Strasberg reviewed her reasons for judgement. Johnson, who is preparing to enter into custody, served three-a-half months in custody after his arrest on the evening of the deadly crash before being released on bail.

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Around 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 22, 2019, Johnson drove his Mazda 3 eastbound on Progress Avenue and drove past Markham Road before mounting the curb, striking three pedestrians who were walking on the eastbound sidewalk.

At the time of the collision, Johnson was on his cellphones speaking with his wife while using hands-free mode. Nineteen-year-old Weijie Zhu Li and 19-year-old Damir Kussain were killed while Li’s brother, 21-year-old Jun Jie, suffered serious head injuries.

A police officer who arrived on scene asked Johnson if he had consumed alcohol. Johnson denied he had been drinking but the officer, noticing his bloodshot eyes and slighly slurred speech, demanded a breath sample. Johnson failed the test and was arrested.

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On Jan. 6, 2021, Johnson pleaded guilty to six offences: Two counts of impaired operation causing death, two counts of dangerous operation causing death, one count of impaired operation causing bodily harm and one count of dangerous operation causing bodily harm. 

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According to the agreed statement of facts, Johnson left work at Canada Post around 4 p.m. and consumed several drinks. Security video and dashcam video shown in court captured Johnson’s Mazda 3 travelling at a high rate of speed through the intersection. Electronic data from Johnson’s vehicle found that he was travelling at a speed of 161 km/h just prior to the crash and only applied his brakes less than a second prior to the crash. The posted speed limit was 50 km/h. His blood-alcohol level was estimated to be between 120 to 170 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, between one-and-a-half and two times higher than the legal limit.

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During a March sentencing hearing, Johnson’s lawyer submitted reports from two doctors who wrote that Johnson self-reported that he was trying to kill himself by driving erratically at the time of the crash because he was suffering from depression, was arguing with his wife and was feeling financial strain. But the judge noted that the details regarding his decision to try to die by suicide were not part of the agreed facts filed.

“What is clear is that the decision to drive after drinking and while in an impaired state preceded the decision to kill himself while behind the wheel,” Strasberg explained.

Crown prosecutor Joshua Levy asked for a sentence of seven to eight years and a 12-year driving prohibition while defence lawyer Adam Newman suggested a sentence of four to six years in a penitentiary would be more appropriate.

“Despite the numerous alternative modes of transportation available, people are still getting into their vehicles after consuming too much alcohol. All (the victims) came to Canada to study at Centennial College,” Strasberg said while reflecting on the ongoing issue of impaired driving.

“Their dreams were shattered by the actions of Michael Johnson. Sadly, the devastating impact of Mr. Johnson’s actions must serve as a warning to others who chose to drink and drive.”

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Strasberg said she took into account the fact that the offender had no prior criminal record, pleaded guilty at an early stage and is remorseful for his actions.

She sentenced Johnson to six years in prison for each of the two counts of impaired operation causing death and six years in prison for the two counts of dangerous operation causing death, and three years for impaired operation causing bodily harm and three years for the count of dangerous operation causing bodily harm. All of the sentences will be served concurrently.

She also gave Johnson 188 days credit for pretrial custody, which means Johnson’s has five years and 177 days left to serve in prison. He will be eligible to apply for parole after serving just one-third of that sentence (a year and 10 months). Johnson must also submit his DNA to the DNA databank.

The families of the 19-year-old boys killed listened on zoom while Johnson hugged his sobbing wife before he was led away in handcuffs.

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