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Campbell River driver pleads guilty in crash that killed friend

A Campbell River man’s blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit when he crashed his car, killing his friend in March 2020.
Victoria courthouse generic photo

A Campbell River man’s blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit when he crashed his car, killing his friend in March 2020.

That information was revealed Thursday in provincial court after Griffin Lee Grant, 23, pleaded guilty to driving over the legal alcohol limit of 0.08 causing the death of his friend, Dustin Kowbel in the early morning hours of March 28.

An agreed statement of facts read into the court record disclosed that Grant was captured on closed circuit television at the liquor store in Campbell River buying two six packs at 10 p.m. on March 27. Grant then went to a gathering at a local residence and drank alcohol, said the statement.

At 3:36 a.m. on March 28, Grant went to Dustin Kowbel’s home. The two men left the home at 3:45 a.m. Kowbel got into the passenger seat of Grant’s Subaru and Grant drove onto the Island Highway, heading north into the Willow Point District.

A number of business cameras captured the Subaru travelling at an estimated speed of 120 km/h on the Island Highway south. Grant’s blood alcohol content, at 155 milligrams, was almost twice the legal limit.

“HIs ability to operate the Subaru was impaired by alcohol; and he drove his Subaru, in manner, having regard to all the circumstances, that was dangerous to the public,” said the statement.

At the same time, police had been called to the area to investigate a break and enter.

A police car was heading south on the highway. The officer signalled and began to turn left, intending to drive down an alley to Willow Point Hall. Grant’s car approached the police cruiser at a very high speed. The officer applied his brakes twice as he made his left turn, said the statement.

Grant’s car braked, decelerating from no less than 120 km/h to no less than 80 km/h. He swerved, missed hitting the police car and sped by. The Subaru then hit a raised median, went across the road, hitting a tree which resulted in the passenger side of the Subaru being ripped off, said the statement.

The officer made a U-turn and drove to the parking lot where the Subaru had come to rest. Grant was immediately arrested and placed in the back of the police car. Kowbel had been thrown from the car and was fatally injured.

Grant was video recorded alone in the back of the police car. He can be heard blaming the officer for cutting in front of him. “It’s not even my fault,” he said.

Later, in conversation with another officer, Grant said in future the police should shoulder check better and signal when making turns. But he also admitted to and apologized for speeding, said the statement. “I really hope my friend survives and like if he doesn’t well then that’s [expletive] I deserve to rot in jail,” Grant is quoted in the statement.

He gave two breath samples at the Campbell River RCMP detachment, but denied having anything to drink since 3 p.m. on March 27.

Dustin Kowbel died at 2:50 p.m. on March 28. He was 21 years old.

The court has ordered a pre-sentence report with a forensic psychiatric component to assist at sentencing. A date for sentencing is expected to be set Dec. 14 for sometime in the new year.

Dustin’s father Kevin Kowbel is calling for release of all the videos which show Grant’s driving that night.

“What happened out there on the highway is shocking,” said Kowbel. “And there is a lesson to be learned about the harm caused by impaired driving and excessive speeds. It’s an opportunity for people who think about doing 120 to 160 km/h in a residential area to see just how fast things happen. There’s so much to be learned. It would be a legacy for Dustin. His tragic passing could save somebody else.”

Since Dustin Kowbel died, 2,400 people have died from drinking and driving in Canada, said Kowbel.

Thirty-eight years ago almost to the day, an impaired driver ran a stop sign and struck Kowbel’s wife, he said. She was in a coma and had to learn to walk and talk again. The first five years of their relationship was spent going to neurosurgeons in Vancouver and experimenting with pain treatments.

“Another impaired driver has destroyed our life again,” said Kowbel. “If it can happen to my family twice, it can happen to anybody’s family.”

B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office reviewed the crash evidence — including collision analysis and video sources — and determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that any officer has committed an offence. A public report will be issued when the court process has concluded.