KITCHENER — The tragic results of an Elmira teenager’s “appalling decision’’ to drink and drive were on heartbreaking display in a Kitchener courtroom Thursday.
There was the distraught mother whose 18-year-old son was killed after his drunken friend lost control of his pickup truck while racing down Barnswallow Drive in Elmira in October, 2010.
There was the teen’s grieving father, who had to view his beloved son’s lifeless body at the scene of the crash and hasn’t recovered yet.
His stepmother, his brothers and sisters, his many friends — they were all there, filling several rows in a courtroom — all shaken by the death of Miles Hamilton.
And then there was the driver — the tall, blond, boyish-looking 17-year-old who took his friend for a ride in his new pickup one night, and ended up killing him and almost ending his own life. His family and friends were also on hand as he faced a judge and Hamilton’s family.
The teen pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death.
Justice Margaret Woolcott sentenced him under the Youth Criminal Justice Act to 18 months — 12 months to be served in an open-custody youth detention facility, and six months under community supervision. He can’t be named because he was 17 at the time.
If he had been 18, he probably would have gone to the penitentiary for three years, the judge said.
But the Youth Criminal Justice Act requires the focus to be on rehabilitation, not deterrence or denunciation. The sentence was recommended by both prosecutor Lynette Fritzley and the defence lawyer Tom Brock.
Hamilton and the teen had been visiting a friend on 52 Crane Cres. in Elmira the night of Oct. 22, 2010. They were with a group of males who planned to go to a larger party down the street.
Some were drinking, including some who were underage. The driver had two or three beers.
Around 9:30 p.m., someone in the group heard him say to Hamilton, “Let’s go take it for a rip,’’ referring to his new truck.
A witness said he was loud and boisterous and appeared angry outside 52 Crane Cres. He peeled away in his truck, doing “brake-stands,” where he pressed down the gas pedal and the brakes at the same time to create smoke and rubber marks on the road.
Another witness saw the truck fly by on Barnswallow Drive around 10 p.m. at speeds of 120 to 130 kilometres per hour in a 50-km zone. There was a huge cloud of dust. Then, the sound of sirens.
A couple in a vehicle that had stopped at First Street and Barnswallow Drive saw him speed past, then heard a loud crash.
They looked down Barnswallow Drive and saw the truck on fire.
The driver was headed north when he lost control. The truck rotated counter clockwise over the southbound lanes onto the property of 108 Barnswallow. It hit a truck parked in the driveway.
Due to the speed and severity of impact, both trucks kept going, hitting trees and bushes. The parked truck was “knocked way off into a field,’’ the judge said.
A police officer managed to pull Hamilton, who was wearing a seatbelt, from the burning truck.
The driver’s lower body was in the driver’s seat but his upper torso was lying across Hamilton and his arm was hanging outside the smashed passenger window.
Hamilton was dead from blunt force trauma to the head. The driver was rushed to local hospital then airlifted to a Hamilton hospital where he was in an induced coma for 10 days.
Police found five flattened beer cans near 57 Crane Cres. and lying on the ground beside the burned truck. They were the brand the driver had been drinking.
He had almost twice the legal amount of alcohol in his blood.
His injuries included a transected aorta which required surgery, a fully collapsed lung and a partly collapsed lung, a lacerated right kidney, lacerated adrenal gland, lacerated liver, fractured right clavicle and scapula, fractured ribs and finger, nerve damage to the right hand and six fractured transverse processes, which are bony structures that protrude from the vertebrae of the spine.
During the day-long sentencing hearing, the judge called the irresponsible consumption of alcohol “a terrible offence.’’
She said the decision to drive was “appalling.’’
“There’s a culture among young people that says drinking is OK,’’ Woolcott said. “People start to drink, which is a perfectly socially acceptable thing. Then they drive. Most of them get away with it and everybody is always shocked when they don’t.
“A fine young life has been snuffed out. And a fine young man finds himself facing the consequences.’’
The teenage driver doesn’t remember anything after 4 p.m. that day. He didn’t have anything to say before sentencing.
Brenda Hamilton, the dead teen’s mother, had a lot to say.
“I am living every parent’s worst nightmare — the sudden loss of a child,’’ she said. “The loss of Miles has rocked my entire foundation …
“When a woman has had a child form and take life within her, had the miraculous experience of giving life to that child, nursed and nurtured that child so closely for so many years, that child is forever a part of her in a very special and unique way.
“I feel part of me died when Miles was killed … and the rest of what’s alive struggles to compensate … like a brain-injured person.’’
Her son, the youngest of five, was a responsible kid who started part-time jobs at age 12. He was cheerful and happy, and used to “swing into the house’’ with a huge grin and a “Hey mom. Whaz up?’’
His death was “absolutely senseless and preventable,’’ his mother said.
Most crushing of all is that the teen responsible has never apologized, she said.
Hamilton’s father, Jim Hamilton, said there are no words to describe “the hurt, the pain and suffering that I feel. The memory of Miles’ lifeless body at the scene of the accident, laying on the side of the road … is an often recurring vision.’’
He had frequent breakdowns for months after.
“Still today, I will see a group of teenagers and will look in the crowd for Miles with his big happy smile, only to be reminded that he is not here.’’
Miles wasn’t just his son. He was “a very good friend,’’ Hamilton said.
“I loved the talks we often had about his hopes and plans and dreams.’’
Outside court, Jim Hamilton said he thought the sentence was “rather light. It’s a serious crime.’’
He isn’t a fan of the Youth Criminal Justice Act which he feels some people “use as a crutch to get away with things.’’
Chloe Hamilton, Miles’ sister, said she was pleased that the judge ordered the driver to perform 100 hours of community service. That means he can give back to the community, she said.
He’s prohibited from driving for three years.