Is a repeat drunk driver a dangerous offender?

Sep 07, 2009 04:30 AM
CARMEN CHAI
STAFF REPORTER

From the Toronto Star

A Quebec judge will decide this week if a repeat impaired driver will be branded as a dangerous offender, a move some Toronto lawyers welcome despite the harsh nature of the penalty.

The case concerns Quebecer Roger Walsh, who has 18 previous convictions related to impaired driving – just a few of his 114 convictions. He pleaded guilty to hit and run causing death after hitting Anee Khudaverdian, a mother who used a wheelchair, on her 47th birthday in October 2008. Walsh also pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death, and violating a court order from a previous conviction that barred him from drinking.

Judge Michel Mercier is set to determine whether Walsh will be the first repeat impaired driver to receive dangerous offender status, a designation typically reserved for murderers and serial rapists.

Joseph Neuberger, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer who specializes in impaired driving cases, said Walsh is a "good candidate" for the severe designation. "With that many prior convictions, there’s very little hope of curbing his alcoholism and his desire to drive while impaired," said Neuberger.

Toronto Traffic Services Sgt. Tim Burrows said the case sends a strong message to repeat drunk-driving offenders across the country. Burrows has seen an increase in impaired driving charges this year.

About 16,000 people are charged annually in Ontario with drinking and driving offences. Since January, nearly 2,000 impaired driving charges have been laid in Toronto, a handful involving repeat offenders, Burrows said.

"Many people have been killed at the hands of drunk drivers, both violators and victims … It’s our biggest problem. We can take away their privilege to drive and set that example on them, but without 24-7 monitoring, there’s no way we can keep them off the roads unless they’re behind bars or on house arrest," he said.

Labour Day weekend is one of the periods when impaired driving charges spike, Burrows added.

In 2008, Milton resident Ingram Bakhsh was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in jail after he struck a couple’s vehicle, forcing it onto train tracks. The couple were killed instantly when a train hit their car. Bakhsh had been driving at high speeds and had a breathalyzer reading almost four times the legal limit. He was already awaiting trial for two other incidents related to drunk driving.

In 2004, Shawn Hall was sentenced to five years in jail after striking and killing a man outside the Guvernment nightclub on Queens Quay in 2002. Hall, who pleaded not guilty, was found with a blood alcohol level far above the legal limit. He had been previously convicted for exceeding the limit.

In 2005, Jeffrey Dressler was sentenced to 15 years in jail and banned from driving for life after he was convicted for the second time of causing death while being impaired. Dressler got behind the wheel of his car in the early morning of Nov. 27, 2004, after he had spent all night drinking at a strip club. On Hwy. 9, west of Newmarket, he crashed into Ion Mihaila’s car, sending him into the path of a minivan and killing him.

Dressler had previously served two years of a four-year prison term for a crash that killed his friend Barry Peterkin in 1996.

With files from The Canadian Press

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/691902

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