FILE - RCMP investigated a fatal motor vehicle incident which occurred at the end of Tronson Road. (Jennifer Smith/Morning Star)

Remorse high for Vernon man sentenced for car surfing death

Driver of car that killed friend who was car surfing gets nine months in jail

Byron James Walterhouse waved goodbye to friends, family and the victim’s family as he left Vernon Law Courts with the sheriff.

Judge Richard Hewson sentenced Walterhouse, 42, to nine months incarceration and handed down a three-year driving Prohibition for the June 1, 2016 car surfing death of his friend, Justin Roger Martyn. Throughout the duration of the case, from charges being laid to sentencing Jan. 17, Walterhouse received support from Martyn’s family.

“The pronouncement of this sentence is unlikely to bring much solace,” Judge Hewson said to teary-eyed members of the public gallery. “My sentence can’t bring Mr. Martyn back.”

Earlier in the week, Walterhouse pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death in relation to the car surfing death of 27-year-old Martyn. Walterhouse also faced charges of criminal negligence causing death and failure to stop at an accident causing death.

Related: Car surfing death a ‘tragic incident’

“I take full responsibility and regret everything that happened that night,” Walterhouse said to Judge Hewson and Martyn’s family at the beginning of his sentencing hearing Jan. 14.

According to details read by Crown prosecutor Juan O’Quinn, Walterhouse, Martyn and other friends were socializing at a Vernon bar the night of the accident. Apart from Walterhouse, all involved parties had been intoxicated.

“Alcohol wasn’t anything that had an impact on this incident,” O’Quinn said, noting that Walterhouse had been sober at the time of the accident. “Walterhouse offered everyone a ride home.”

O’Quinn said the party was driving on Tronson Road after leaving the bar at around 12 a.m. when Martyn climbed out of the window and onto the roof of the 2007 Dodge Calibre. Unbeknownst to Walterhouse, a dead end loomed ahead. The vehicle went off the road and rolled down an embankment.

Martyn was pronounced dead at the scene.

Upon learning that Martyn was dead, Judge Hewson said Walterhouse became distraught and considered suicide.

“He thought about killing himself and phoned a member of his family, but fortunately for all of us he did not follow through then, or on a subsequent occasion when his mental health declined and he became suicidal,” Judge Hewson said.

While Walterhouse did not instigate the car surfing, he continued to drive for several minutes before the accident occurred, court heard, though it was Martyn who put himself at risk.

“According to the letter submitted by Mr. Martyn’s mother, this was not the first time he had done this,” Judge Hewson said.

Related: Man facing charges for Vernon car surfing death to stand trial

Related: Charges laid in car surfing death

Given the circumstances, Judge Hewson found Walterhouse’s culpability to be high.

“Although Mr. Martyn’s death was not intended, it was completely foreseeable,” Judge Hewson said.

However, Judge Hewson said, Walterhouse’s remorse is a primary mitigating factor.

“Unlike other cases, in which remorse is really just an expression of the offender’s regret that he or she has been caught, I am completely satisfied that Byron Walterhouse’s remorse is real. If he were able to trade places with Justin Martyn today, he would,” Judge Hewson said.

Defence lawyer Jonathan Avis agreed.

“In terms of remorse, I don’t think he could feel much more remorse than he does,” Avis said of the Salmon Arm-born father-of-one. “This is a case where deterrence is almost complete before charges are laid. That (Martyn’s death) will be extremely difficult for him to live with.”

Walterhouse’s guilty plea and lack of a criminal record also play a role in mitigating his high culpability. Martyn’s family’s support of Walterhouse is also a great factor, Judge Hewson said.

Prior to the accident, Walterhouse and Martyn had been best friends for nearly 10 years. In a letter read aloud by Judge Hewson, Martyn’s mother wrote that Walterhouse is an honest and supportive friend.

“He has so suffered with me ever since the accident happened and stood by to help out through this agonizing time. I do not know what I would have done without him,” the letter reads.

The Crown sought two to three years incarceration, alongside a three-year driving prohibition. Defence, meanwhile, thought an intermittent imprisonment of 60 to 90 days to be served on the weekends and a two-year probation with community service would be more suitable.


@VernonNews
newstips@vernonmorningstar.com

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