Man sentenced for fatal Christmas Eve collision in the South Okanagan

Crown said they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that man was impaired

It was a Christmas Eve that Andrew David Cook and the family and friends of the woman killed in the car accident he caused, will probably never forget.

Driving north on Highway 97, it was near Kickininee Provincial Park around 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 25, 2015, he made the decision to move into the fast lane when he lost control of his Honda Odyssey, crossed the double yellow line and ran into a Chevrolet Spark in the southbound lane.

Cook, 22 at the time of the incident, who had alcohol in his blood content, was rushed to hospital. Arlene Shepherd, the 74-year-old woman driving the vehicle he hit, suffered broken ribs, a chipped pelvis and abdominal bleeding — her condition was considered serious but not life-threatening at the time. However, her medical condition deteriorated significantly with kidney failure and, after a month in hospital, she contracted pneumonia and died on Jan. 25, 2016.

“I just want to reiterate how much regret I have for that decision I made and my sincerest apologies to the family for the choices I made that morning,” said Cook, whose voice trembled as he spoke to Justice Allison Beames on Tuesday in Supreme Court during his sentencing. “I’m so, so sorry.”

In a joint submission, Cook plead guilty to driving without due care. The impaired driving causing death, driving while over the legal limit and dangerous driving causing death charges were stayed. He was sentenced to 90 days in prison, to be served at the Okanagan Correctional Centre, and a two year driving prohibition. The maximum sentence this charge holds is six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Related: ICBC bad driver crackdown popular with public, survey finds

Defence lawyer Don Skogstad said the driving conditions were unfavourable that morning and other drivers were seen using the fast lane to pass slower vehicles. Skogstad said Cook also made the decision to pass, however he lost control in the lane that was allegedly not plowed, crossed the unbarricaded centre lane and struck the other vehicle.

“It’s a miscalculation, as well as a young fellow not familiar with the elimination rates of alcohol,” said Skogstad.

Crown counsel Kurt Froehlich conceded that many of the details of the investigation, as shown in the preliminary inquiry held in 2017, left them with the belief that it could not be proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, the original charges of impairment and the blood alcohol content. Froehlich said Cook had puked twice in the ambulance and the smell of alcohol prompted the impaired driving investigation.

Related: B.C. cities among cities with highest number of impaired drivers

It was stated by Justice Beams there could have been challenges to the investigation as a result of having transport Cook to the hospital to deal with injuries from the accident and ensuring he had access to proper counsel. She added if the trial went ahead he could have been found not guilty of all three of the charges.

Justice Beames read victim impact statements from Shepherd’s family and letters written in support of Cook before agreeing to the joint submission. She said the death of Sheppard must have been “horrific” news to her friends and family — to which Beames said she assumed she had many based on the words written in the statements.

“She was at least conscious for some period of time before her admission into hospital, it is not clear to me how long, but based on the very impactful victim impact statements that I read, it is clear that her first concern was the condition of Mr. Cook which speaks volumes with respect to her character,” said Beames.

Beames said Cook has shown remorse through his words and demeanour in court.

“I have no doubt an accident like this which causes the premature and tragic death of another is a life-changing event and Mr. Cook is conducting himself as if that is the case,” said Beames.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Kristi Patton | Editor

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