Steven Ronald Theriault had been drinking and using drugs for days before he drove a borrowed car full of friends at speeds of up to 192 km/h on Highway 3 then lost control, killing a passenger.
The crash on April 22, 2020, 15 km south of Behchokǫ̀, killed Florriane Rabesca and injured two other women. One of the women, Laurie Lynn Gargan – Rabesca’s best friend – spent weeks in two hospitals with a broken neck and cracked pelvis among other injuries.
Rabesca, 21, of Behchokǫ̀, was the mother to a boy who was five at the time. He is now being raised by her parents.
A sentencing hearing on Wednesday heard that Theriault, 44, didn’t have a driver’s licence at the time. He had lost his licence several years earlier after rolling a vehicle in High Level, Alberta, leaving several people seriously injured.
Theriault, who was convicted of dangerous driving for that incident, has four driving offences – including another dangerous driving conviction in the 1990s – in his criminal record, which has 34 entries, including several for violent crimes.
“Mr Theriault should have been aware of the risk of driving at an excessive rate of speed,” said Crown prosecutor Angie Paquin, noting he blamed a bump in the road for the April 2020 crash.
“Mr Theriault should have learned a lesson [but] it is not clear to me that even to this date he realizes the risk; that significant speed was a contributing factor to the accident.
“Mr Theriault clearly poses a safety risk to anyone on the road. It appears the fact he does not have a driver’s licence [doesn’t diminish] his willingness not to drive, let alone at a high rate of speed.”
The posted speed limit on that stretch of Highway 3 is 100 km/h. The court heard Theriault lost control when he turned to look at front-seat passenger April Grandjambe.
Theriault had originally faced six charges related to the crash but agreed to plead guilty to four in exchange for two being withdrawn.
Paquin asked Justice Shannon Smallwood to sentence Theriault to a total of between six and seven years with a lifetime driving ban.
That would include six years for dangerous driving causing death and three years – served concurrently – for dangerous driving causing bodily harm. In addition, Paquin asked for two terms of one year – concurrent to each other but consecutive to the main counts – to be served for failure to stop after an accident causing bodily harm and death.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran called for a total sentence of four and a half to five years.
After the heavily damaged 2015 Chrysler sedan came to a halt on its roof, Theriault kicked out a window to exit the vehicle. Front seat passenger Grandjambe, 29, was in shock and sat on the ground in the snow on the clear, sunny day. Moments earlier, she had called out to the occupants of the car to buckle up as she sensed the danger of the increasing speed.
The car’s occupants had been drinking from mickeys of vodka purchased earlier in Yellowknife.
Backseat passenger Cory Sarasin-Bloomstrand, 32, also crawled out of the vehicle.
The court heard Theriault and Sarasin-Bloomstrand ran off, hitching a ride back toward the community. The pair then disappeared, triggering an intensive manhunt. (Sarasin-Bloomstrand’s family maintains that he first stayed to help others in the vehicle. Sarasin-Bloomstrand, of Yellowknife, died in an Edmonton hospital on October 19, 2020. His cause of death was not mentioned in court.)
The pair fled to Edmonton with Theriault falling into a lengthy period of drug and alcohol abuse, said the prosecutor.
The fact Theriault fled the scene, leaving behind his mortally injured girlfriend Rabesca and his other injured female friends, is “morally reprehensible,” said Paquin.
Theriault was discovered through social media in the intensive care unit of an Edmonton hospital on May 15, 2020. It’s not known why he was in hospital. An arrest warrant had been issued for Theriault and Edmonton police were notified. However, officers were told he was too ill to be arrested, said prosecutor Paquin.
“He then left hospital against medical advice,” she said, noting RCMP subsequently issued a second request for the public’s help in tracking him down.
Theriault was finally arrested on June 2 and has remained in custody since, earning 15 months of remand credit which will be applied to the sentence he receives.
“Given the criminal record of Mr Theriault, the court should not be lenient,” said Paquin.
Seven victim impact statements were provided by family and friends. Some were read out in court by their authors.
“It will take time for me to release her spirit,” said Rabesca’s father, Tony Rabesca.
“As a father, I try to be strong to keep my family safe. I ask my ancestors to keep me strong.
“My beautiful baby … I miss her every day. I love her so much, I know that we will see each other one day.”
Justice Smallwood reserved her decision until Thursday at 1:30pm.