Ottawa driver who killed his best friend sentenced to three years in prison
It started as a night of video games and beer, followed by a trip to the pub for Ryan Smith and Teague McEwen, best pals who had shared a brotherly bond since Grade 6.
It ended with Smith’s speeding car rolling over at least twice in a darkened ditch before slamming into a traffic light pole on a rural stretch of road in April 2015.
On Tuesday, the 25 year old stood in an Ottawa courtroom to say sorry for killing his best friend. Smith was then sentenced to three years in a federal prison for dangerous driving causing death and banned from driving for three years.
The apology that left many in the courtroom in tears followed a heart-wrenching victim impact statement by McEwen’s girlfriend Amanda Wilson, who described to a judge the never-ending sorrow she now experiences as a single mom to a little boy who looks and acts like the father he will never meet.
McEwen, 23, had found out just a week before the crash that he was going to be a father. Wilson said McEwen would rub her tummy to sleep at night over that short seven days.
“I constantly wish Dallin could experience the real-life version of his dad, and not have to ‘know’ his dad from the many stories he is told,” Wilson said. “I see Dallin and his silliness, always trying to make everyone around him happy, always looking for a good laugh. As he gets older, his personality gets bigger and bigger and I’m constantly reminded that it’s so similar to how Teague was.”
Wilson said she will never be ready for her son’s inevitable questions about what happened to his father, about his father’s friend who is responsible for his death, or if his daddy loved him.
“Dallin is the last real piece I have of Teague … he is his legacy,” Wilson said. “Dallin will always ask and be asked where his daddy is.”
Now she’s left with the “incomplete picture that was my life after he left, like someone took a pair of scissors and cut out half the photo.”
The April 26, 2015 fatal crash was the second tragedy to strike McEwen’s family. Teague’s sister, Bryana McEwen, 15, was killed in 2003 after crashing a car into trees. Police said Bryana McEwen had consumed alcohol prior to the crash.
His two surviving sisters described in their victim impact statement how they now have another empty seat at their family table. They also expressed their frustration that Teague’s death was so easily preventable.
“We lost the only other person in the world who shared our experiences growing up and understood what we went through when we lost Bryana,” his older sisters Elizabeth Carrier and Rainey McEwen wrote in their statement. “Ironically, he could have helped us now, but we are alone in our sorrow.”
According to an agreed statement of fact, McEwen and Smith had gone together to a friend’s house where they each had a beer and played video games. Around midnight, they left for Greenfield’s Pub in Barrhaven, where they continued drinking.
The friends left together in Smith’s 2003 Infiniti G35. It was 3:50 a.m. when Smith failed to negotiate a curve on Fallowfield Road, lost control and rolled over at least twice before hitting a traffic light at the corner of Eagleson Road. At the time, it was estimated that Smith was going 111 to 125 km/h in an 80 km/h zone. McEwen, who wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, was thrown through the windshield.
First responders found him without vital signs in a cornfield. A paramedic also detected the odour of alcohol on Smith as he helped immobilize McEwen. Smith told the paramedic he had drank two beers. Later, when police asked Smith about it again in hospital, that number increased to two to three beers at a friend’s house.
Smith blew a fail on a roadside screening test; he later refused to provide a breath sample. Smith was originally charged with impaired driving and criminal negligence causing death, but pleaded guilty to dangerous driving.
Smith, who suffered a broken wrist, collapsed lung and other injuries in the crash, told the court that he carries the weight of his best friend’s death with him every day. The two were like brothers, he said, and understood each other in a way no one else could.
“Knowing for the rest of my life that I have taken away Teague, my best friend, I feel broken,” said an emotional Smith. “I truly am, from the bottom of my heart, very sorry, and if Teague is listening, I’m so sorry brother.”
Ontario Court Justice Heather Perkins-McVey told Smith that McEwen’s death mustn’t be in vain.
“You must send the message to all of your friends, you cannot enter a vehicle having consumed alcohol,” she said. “It won’t change what happened, but perhaps can begin to continue the message that has been stated loud and clear through the courts, through public service announcements, that drinking and driving is a serious thing.”