COLWOOD, B.C. — As a judge delivered a four-year prison sentence to the drunk driver who killed Const. Sarah Beckett on Friday, her grieving relatives shook and wept, before handing a letter to Crown counsel expressing their outrage.
Provincial court Judge Ronald Lamperson acknowledged the sentence would seem inadequate to the many people on Vancouver Island who have been touched by the “tragic case.”
“Clearly there is no sentence I can impose that will bring Const. Beckett back or address the pain that her family and friends continue to suffer,” Lamperson told a packed courtroom near Victoria.
But he said he must be guided by prior decisions involving impaired driving causing death in sentencing Kenneth Fenton, 29, who has also been banned from driving or owning a weapon for 10 years.
Lamperson said to his knowledge, Beckett is the first police officer in B.C. to be killed by a drunk driver.
Beckett, a 32-year-old mother of two boys, had recently returned from maternity leave when she was killed in Langford, a suburb of Victoria, in April 2016.
Her husband, Brad Aschenbrenner, broke down in tears as the judge recounted the details of his wife’s death.
The court heard that Fenton was upset about a friend’s suicide and had been drinking heavily before he sped through a red light in his truck and slammed into Beckett’s cruiser.
Another officer who had tried to stop Fenton’s truck seconds earlier because his tail lights were out described the crash as an “explosion” with ”glass and smoke and dust everywhere.”
The judge said a man who spoke with Fenton at the scene said he appeared “dazed and confused” and asked how the Mountie was doing.
Fenton was taken to hospital, where he refused to give a blood sample and denied he had been drinking or had an alcohol addiction. A search warrant was later obtained to seize blood samples, which showed .287 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, more than three times the legal limit.
The court also heard Fenton had previous traffic convictions, including two 90-day driving bans for alcohol-related incidents in 2006 and 2010.
Fenton pleaded guilty in May to impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death. He was handed a four-year and three-year term for each charge, respectively, and the judge ordered that the sentences be served concurrently.
Beckett’s family was unhappy with the sentence and handed a statement to prosecutors criticizing their performance, said Crown counsel Chandra Fisher outside court. Fisher refused to show the statement to the media.
Alisia Adams of the B.C. Prosecution Service said counsel had regularly met with Beckett’s family and heard their concerns.
“It’s clear that the family and the friends and the colleagues of Const. Beckett have experienced a profound loss. We recognize their pain,” she said.
But she said Crown counsel have to look objectively at the evidence and what it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
The family did not speak to media, but Const. Alex Berube, a spokesman for West Shore RCMP and a friend of Beckett’s, said the court process had been “very hard” for them.
“We’re all human beings, even in the police force. It’s a hard day,” he said.
Aschenbrenner told Fenton’s earlier sentencing hearing that he awoke at 3:30 a.m. on April 5, 2016, and knew something was wrong. Soon after, an officer knocked on his door to tell him his wife was dead.
He said he lost the love of his life and the mother of their young sons, Lucas and Emmett. The hardest thing after his wife’s death was telling six-year-old Lucas “mommy wasn’t coming home,” Aschenbrenner said.
The judge also outlined some of the victim impact statements and letters from Fenton’s family that described him as a kind and respectful man whose family has been attacked verbally since his arrest.
Fenton apologized to Beckett’s family in court last week and said he would trade places with her if he could.
B.C.’s prosecution service announced earlier this week that there was not enough evidence to approve charges against the officer who tried to stop Fenton’s truck seconds before the fatal collision.
On Friday, the prosecution service said there was no evidence the officer was pursuing Fenton. As the truck accelerated away, the officer told dispatch he was “shutting it down” and reduced his speed seconds later.
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Laura Kane , The Canadian Press