A man who drove 24 kms the wrong way on the QE II Hwy. last March before slamming head-on into another vehicle carrying five occupants, four of which were killed, has been sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
Tyler James Stevens, 30, was initially charged with four counts of impaired driving causing death, one count of impaired driving causing bodily harm, four counts of failing to provide a breath sample, four counts of criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle causing death and one count of criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. All other charges were dropped.
Four occupants of the second vehicle including Anthony Subong Castillon, 35, Joey Flores Mangonon, 35, Eden Dalu Biazon, 39, and Josefina Flores Velarde, 52, died as a result of the crash.
Josephine Gaila Tamondong, 28, was transported to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. She was severely injured but survived the collision.
They were all temporary workers from the Philippines.
In an Agreed Statement of Facts that was read into the record during Stevens’ sentencing hearing last Friday, court heard that Stevens, who was the part-owner of an oilfield company, resided in Innisfail but spent time in Australia for work.
On March 4, 2012, he was at his aunt’s home near Spruce View early in the evening to celebrate her birthday. He consumed alcohol at the event. He then drove to a bar in Spruce View and had another drink and then drove to an Innisfail bar where he consumed four more.
Court also heard that Stevens was taking antibiotics for a cyst on his back and he knew he shouldn’t mix the medication and alcohol together.
“He had 11 ounces of hard liquor and his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit,” said Anders Quist, crown prosecutor.
He added, Stevens doesn’t recall driving after leaving the bar, but witness accounts given said he exited onto the QE II Hwy. from Innisfail heading south. Near Bowden around 11 p.m. he stopped his Range Rover SUV in the middle of the highway, turned around and began driving north in the southbound lanes.
“Witnesses said his speed changed anywhere from 40 km/hour to 120 km/hour (during the time he was traveling the wrong way) and that he was swerving wildly,” said Quist. “Witnesses said he had dozens of near misses with other vehicles.”
Shortly after, he crashed head-on into the vehicle carrying the five workers who were headed to Montana from Edmonton.
RCMP were called to the accident site just north of Innisfail around 11:10 p.m.
“When RCMP arrived Mr. Stevens smelled strongly of alcohol. He only had cuts to his knuckles and was drifting in and out of consciousness,” said Quist.
The Agreed Statement of Facts said when asked what his name was Stevens said “Tom Stevens” and when asked how much he had to drink “he said lots”. He refused a breath sample twice.
“Mr. Stevens told police he didn’t know if the collision was his fault or the other people’s fault and then asked, ‘Did I really kill those kids?’” said Quist.
Family members of the victims flew in from the Philippines for the sentencing hearing. A number of victim impact statements were read including one from the lone survivor of the crash, Tamondong.
“On March 4, 2012, my life changed forever. On a cold, dark night, four of my friends were taken away from their families. I don’t remember much about that horrible night. I woke up in the University of Alberta Hospital and I was told I was in a horrible car crash,” she said. “This crash didn’t just damage my body, it pulled out my soul. I suffer from depression and I wonder how could I be the only one to survive? What did my friends do to deserve this terrible end?
“I spent six weeks in the hospital. The crash makes me worry about the future and how my injuries will affect me when I get older. I can’t do so many of the things I used to without pain. Since the accident I haven’t been able to work and it has affected me and my family financially.
“I’m doing the best I can to move on with my life. I wish each and every day this terrible act did not happen.”
Before he was sentenced, Stevens expressed remorse.
“I know there isn’t any words that I can say to heal anyone’s pain. The last three months I have walked out to the accident site and I have prayed for the families and I have asked in some way to help them in the future. I haven’t prayed in a long time – I lost my faith a long time ago,” he said. “I would ask if the families would like to give me a chance, I would like to be there for them if they’ll let me. I am so sorry for the pain I have caused you all. You didn’t deserve it and I wish there was something I could do.
“I would like to help pay for the kid’s tuitions and help with the dreams (the victims) all had.”
Stevens was sentenced to six and a half years in prison but he will get credit for time served after his arrest. He was in jail for 24 days after the crash.
He also had a driving ban imposed for six years after he is released. He will also have to submit to the DNA Bank and is prohibited from possessing any firearms for 10 years after his release.