A provincial court judge needs more time to hand down a sentence in what both defence and Crown lawyers have called a “tragic incident.”
Byron James Walterhouse, 42, paused to wipe away tears as Crown prosecutor Juan O’Quinn and defence lawyer Jonathon Avis submitted their facts to Judge Richard Hewson in Vernon Law Courts Monday, Jan. 14.
Walterhouse pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death in relation to the car surfing death of 27-year-old Spallumcheen resident Justin Roger Martyn on June 1, 2016. Walterhouse is also facing charges of criminal negligence causing death and failure to stop at an accident causing death.
“I take full responsibility and regret everything that happened that night,” Walterhouse said to Judge Hewson and the public gallery full of both his and Martyn’s family.
O’Quinn, recounting the night of the incident, said Walterhouse’s case is one of a “very unfortunate” nature.
“The set of circumstances is even more tragic in that Walterhouse and Martyn were best friends,” he said.
Court heard that Walterhouse, Martyn, and the vehicle’s other occupants were socializing at The Kal Sports Bar in downtown Vernon. The occupants of the vehicle, apart from Walterhouse, had all been drinking.
“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 they were driving on Tronson Road in Vernon shortly after 12 a.m. when Martyn climbed out of the window and onto the roof of the 2007 Dodge Calibre. According to one witness, O’Quinn said, Walterhouse drove for between 10 and 15 minutes with Martyn on the roof.
“He (Walterhouse) unknowingly came to a part on Tronson Road where the road ends, essentially what we could call a dead end,” O’Quinn said.
Forensic reports suggest that the vehicle had been travelling at about 60 km/h when the breaks were applied.
“His vehicle struck the curb, catapulting the vehicle into the air,” O’Quinn said and added that the vehicle rolled down an embankment.
Martyn died on the scene before responders arrived.
“He (Walterhouse) was a mature person who should have been more responsible,” O’Quinn said. “He ended his friend’s life by driving the way he did for the time that he did with his friend on the roof.”
However, O’Quinn noted, while Walterhouse was responsible for his friends’ safety, it was Martyn who put himself at risk. Furthermore, Walterhouse was not an instigator of the car-surfing.
Walterhouse left the vehicle and began to call his family and friends to tell them that he intended to kill himself, court heard. Avis said that Walterhouse’s mother calmed that feeling.
“It wasn’t to evade liability,” Avis said of Walterhouse’s decision to leave the scene.
Several members of Martyn’s family were in court to show support for Walterhouse. Avis said that Martyn’s family has described Walterhouse as a kind and gentle man.
“In terms of remorse, I don’t think he could feel much more remorse than he does,” Avis said of the 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.”
The Crown is seeking two to three years in prison followed by a three-year driving prohibition. Avis, however, suggested intermittent imprisonment of 60 to 90 days to be served on the weekends with numerous conditions and two-years probation with community service would be a more suitable sentence.
The sentencing hearing was adjourned to allow Judge Hewson further time to consider the “difficult case’s” circumstances.
“You (the vehicle’s occupants) are all fundamentally good people but a terrible thing happened,” Judge Hewson said. “They’re right. It’s not easy.”
Judge Hewson is expected to give a decision at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17.