A B.C. provincial court judge struggled last Thursday to meet the letter of the law, while doing everything he could to keep a drunk driver off the roads – even though the guilty man was not charged under the criminal code with impaired driving.
“How am I going to keep this community safe?” demanded Judge Greg Koturbash.
For 30 minutes Koturbash admonished Lukas Veit, who pleaded guilty to several counts of driving while prohibited, and one charge of fleeing from a police officer, after lawyers for the crown and the defence made a joint submission recommending fines and a license suspension.
“You should be in jail. You have an atrocious driving record, you have done nothing to deal with your alcoholism and you continue to drive,” said Koturbash. “You can go ahead and be a drunk if you want, but you don’t have to drive. You don’t have to put other peoples’ lives in danger.”
Veit is 20 years old and lives in Hedley. Defence counsel Kate Lundman told the court he suffers from cirrhosis of the liver and experienced many childhood traumas, including watching his mother die of a condition related to her own excessive drinking.
“He is a product of his environment,” she said.
However Koturbash did not appear moved after Veit admitted he drinks every day, “a lot … as much as I can.”
Koturbash asked him: “You expect me to sit here and have sympathy for you? You keep driving drunk and you flee from the police.”
When asked why he should not go to jail, Veit said he cares for his grandmother in their shared home, and is a volunteer firefighter who gives back to the community.
“How are you helping the community by driving around like a drunk? asked Koturbash. “Your volunteer firefighting doesn’t outweigh that, at least not for me.”
The court heard that on April 8 police were called to the scene of a single car accident on Highway 3. The caller reported the driver might be impaired.
When RCMP arrived they found Veit outside of the vehicle. He failed a roadside breathalyzer test, but was not charged with impaired driving.
While Koturbash called that “a kiss from the police” in court, Corporal Chad Parsons said in an interview with The Spotlight that “often what happens in an impaired driving investigation is if you don’t actually see them in the driver’s seat, we get into problems with prosecution.”
On that occasion Veit was charged with driving while prohibited.
Veit was issued a 90-day licence suspension, under the Motor Vehicle Act, after an impaired driving investigation on the morning of Sept. 4, the court was told.
Later that evening, RCMP received numerous calls reporting the man was driving erratically on the streets of Hedley.
When police arrived at Veit’s home, he was inside “unresponsive and intoxicated,” according to Crown counsel Nashina Devji.
While the hood of the car was warm, police did not have the necessary chain of evidence to proceed with an impaired charge and Veit was again arrested for driving while prohibited.
On Sept. 7 Parsons witnessed Veit driving and attempted to pull him over. Veit “fled at a high rate of speed.”
At one point during the sentencing, after acknowledging he was bound by law regarding the joint submission and the guilty pleas, Koturbash pushed back his chair and said: “I’m going to have to send you to jail sir, today.”
Veit replied: “Please, one more chance.”
The judge then considered aloud placing a no-drinking condition on Veit’s probation order, and Veit immediately said he would have to to go to the hospital to detox.
Lundman interjected and said Veit would not be able to comply with the order “and we will be seeing him again Monday.”
Finally Koturbash placed Veit on probation for 18 months, stipulating a curfew that he cannot leave his residence except with the permission of his probation officer for three months — effectively placing him under house arrest.
“It’s either that or jail to protect the public at this stage. At least this way the police can properly monitor that you are in the house.”
Veit was also ordered to participate in a residential treatment program and fined $1,800.
“If you don’t straighten up you are going to die,” said Koturbash. “I just hope you don’t take someone with you.”