A Behchokǫ̀ man showed “reprehensible” behaviour by leaving his girlfriend dead or dying in a car he had just wrecked, a judge said in sentencing him to six and a half years in prison.
NWT Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood told Steven Ronald Theriault: “There is a duty for drivers involved in an accident to remain at the scene … particularly where there has been bodily harm or death. It is recognized that this type of conduct is morally reprehensible and contrary to any standard of human decency.”
Theriault, now 45, hung his head but showed no emotion during Thursday’s sentencing in Yellowknife. Sentencing arguments had been heard a day earlier.
Smallwood recounted how Theriault had reached speeds of 192 km/h in a 100 km/h zone before crashing a car on Highway 3 on April 22, 2020. The crash killed his girlfriend, Florriane Rabesca, and injured two other women. One broke her neck in the impact.
Theriault and a male friend were uninjured in the multiple rollover crash, 15 km south of Behchokǫ̀. The two men left the scene before emergency responders arrived.
All five people in the borrowed 2015 Chrysler 200 had been drinking alcohol. All except Rabesca, 21, had been partying for a couple of days, including smoking crack cocaine.
This was the third dangerous driving conviction for Theriault, who had no driver’s licence at the time of the crash.
“When an offender drives dangerously, passengers, other drivers and the public are placed at a great risk of harm,” said the judge, who sided with Crown prosecutor Angie Paquin’s call for a sentence of 6.5 to seven years.
“The offender makes the choice to drive dangerously and bears the consequences of that decision.”
Smallwood said the primary sentencing goals for dangerous driving causing death are deterrence and denunciation, not rehabilitation.
“Retribution – which is a different objective than vengeance – is also an important sentencing objective,” she said. “While driving is an everyday activity, it is also a privilege.”
Smallwood said she gave Theriault full credit for his early guilty plea to six counts, as it saved what would have been a difficult and painful trial for the witnesses and families.
Smallwood sentenced Theriault to 5.5 years for dangerous driving causing death and three years, to be served concurrently, for dangerous driving causing bodily harm. In addition, she sentenced him to two terms of one year – concurrent to each other but consecutive to the main counts, meaning one extra year in total – for failing to stop after an accident causing bodily harm and death.
Smallwood said she would have been prepared to give Theriault a longer sentence for his failure to stop, but the Crown only asked for one year.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran had argued for a total sentence of four and a half to five years.
Theriault has accumulated 15 months of remand credit, leaving him with four years and three months to serve.
Bran persuaded the judge to make a recommendation to Correctional Service of Canada that Theriault serve his sentence in the North, to be closer to family and to avoid the increased risk of Covid-19 in southern jails.
In addition to the prison time, Theriault will be subject to a lifetime driving prohibition and will have to provide a DNA sample for the national crime databank.
He is not to have any contact with the two women who survived the crash and the late woman’s parents.
The Rabescas have said they do want to meet once with Theriault to help with closure.
“Florriane Rabesca was well loved and will be forever missed by all of her family,” said Smallwood. “She was a young mother who loved her son and had plans and dreams. She leaves behind a son who will now have to grow up without the love, guidance and support of his mother.
“I recognize no sentence that I impose today can bring back the life of a loved one or take away the infinite grief or loss felt by family members who are left behind.”