Day parole for Lacombe driver who killed two teens

A Lacombe mother serving a prison sentence for killing two Red Deer teenagers will be allowed to move into an Edmonton halfway house on Tuesday.

A Lacombe mother serving a prison sentence for killing two Red Deer teenagers will be allowed to move into an Edmonton halfway house on Tuesday.

Colton Keeler, 18, died in the early hours of March 31, 2012, when an eastbound car slammed into the back of a disabled car that he and a friend were trying to push-start on the eastbound shoulder of Hwy 11A, about three km west of Hwy 2.

Tyson Vanderzwaag, who was at the back of the car with Keeler, died six days later in the Calgary Foothills Hospital, just two days after his 18th birthday.

April Gail Beauclair, who was on her way home to Lacombe after celebrating her upcoming birthday with a friend in Sylvan Lake, admitted to police at the scene that she had been drinking the night before and accepted full responsibility for the crash.

Beauclair, 31, pleaded guilty in Red Deer provincial court last October and was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for two counts of impaired driving causing death.

She has been serving her sentence in the minimum-security area of the Edmonton Institution for Women, where she met with the Parole Board of Canada on Wednesday morning to ask for day parole.

Beauclair told the panel of two men that she still has vivid memories of the crash.

She said she planned to spend the night in Sylvan Lake after a bout of drinking, but woke up after about an hour and half and decided she was fit to drive home.

“I’d driven that road a hundred times and I felt like I’m OK now,” she said.

She grabbed a coffee and a bagel on the way out of town and headed east on Hwy 11A.

Beauclair said she was reaching down to change the music when the car’s airbags deployed.

“When I got out of the car and I realized what had happened, and I had hurt people and they were lying there and people were screaming and it was like nothing I’d ever seen, and I realized I had done this,” said Beauclair.

“It definitely wasn’t an accident — I chose to drive. I just thought it wouldn’t happen to me.”

In reading their decision to allow day parole, members of the panel said her early acceptance of responsibility for causing the crash was a factor in her favour, balanced against her long history of alcoholism and marijuana abuse.

The parole board’s mandate is very narrow, in that its decision on whether an applicant can be granted parole rests entirely on whether that offender presents a risk to the public, said the member.

He said the words of Keeler’s parents, who presented their victim impact statements during the hearing, speak to the immediate and ongoing impact of losing their son — something Beauclair must appreciate herself as the mother of two daughters.

“There is no other sound like that of an anguished parent upon learning of the loss of a child,” he said, reading from the court transcript of her sentence hearing.

Colton’s mother, Brandee Keeler, told the panel that her pain is only getting worse, especially on birthdays and other dates when the family should be celebrating. Keeler said she and the youngest of Colton’s two brothers are on medication for the anxiety they continue to suffer.

Colton’s father, Darren Keeler, said he is no longer able to find joy in his life and is not the person he used to be. He urged the board to send the public a message that drunk driving cannot be tolerated.

While the seriousness of the crime and the impact on victims bears some weight in the decision, the board must also recognize that Beauclair has made extraordinary efforts to address her addictions and mental health issues, said the panel member who gave the decision.

Certainly, her long battle with addictions, starting when she was 12, will make it that much more difficult for her to stay on track, he said. However, the panel agreed with the recommendations of Beauclair’s case management team in assessing her as being at low risk of reoffending.

Beauclair also spoke during the hearing of her desire to put her experience to work for the good of others, by participating in whatever way she can in programs aimed at stopping people from driving while intoxicated.

Approval for day parole means she can be transferred to a halfway house in Edmonton, provided there is a bed available.

Her release includes conditions that she abstain from alcohol and non-prescription drugs, that she stay out of premises where alcoholic beverages are the primary commodities, that she takes part in counselling and psychiatric treatment and that she have no contact with the victims of her offence.

Beauclair is eligible to apply for full parole on Dec. 11.

Her driver’s licence has been suspended for five years following her release from prison.

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