Killer driver gets 18 months for second impaired conviction

DUNCAN — The drunk driver who killed West Shore RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett will spend an extra 18 months in prison for driving drunk and seriously injuring a passenger in May 2016.

The crash happened six weeks after an intoxicated Kenneth Jacob Fenton slammed into a police cruiser, killing the 32-year-old mother of two young boys in the early morning of April 5, 2016. Fenton is serving a four-year prison sentence for impaired driving causing her death.

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Last month, the 30-year-old Langford man pleaded guilty to flight from police and driving over .08, causing bodily harm to Meghan Ashe on May 22, 2016. Fenton was three times over the legal limit for alcohol and speeding away from police when he rolled a pickup truck, seriously injuring himself and Ashe. A latticework of scars was visible on the back of his closely cropped head as he was brought into court Monday.

Judge Lisa Mrozinski denied a Crown application to allow Beckett’s husband, Brad Aschenbrenner, to read a victim-impact statement.

“Common sense dictates absolutely that Mr. Aschenbrenner, as with other members of Const. Beckett’s family, would have felt devastated by Mr. Fenton’s offending behaviour. …Their lives are tragically and horribly entwined,” said Mrozinski.

However, the judge could not connect the harm suffered by Ashe and the effect on Aschenbrenner, other than both were harmed by the same person.

Court heard that on the night of May 21, 2016, Ashe went with a friend to Ma Miller’s Pub. She met Fenton. Both were drinking.

At 11:30 p.m., they left the pub. Ashe was driving a green pickup. She and Fenton drove to a lookout at the top of Ridgeline Drive. Because she was having trouble with the clutch, Fenton took over driving.

As they continued and arrived at the cul-de-sac, they met youths celebrating high school graduation. One girl was so ill from alcohol her friends had called an ambulance. Ashe tried to help the sick teenager. Other teens noted that both Ashe and Fenton appeared drunk.

Fenton and Ashe left the lookout when the ambulance arrived about 1 a.m. Fenton was driving.

Two West Shore RCMP officers, in two marked police cruisers, came to help with the sick girl.

Fenton drove to the bottom of Ridgeline Drive and turned north onto Goldstream Heights Drive. Cpl. David Hill, who was southbound on Goldstream Heights Drive, saw the truck and decided to make a traffic stop. As the truck passed, he turned on his emergency lights and siren.

The truck sped past, heading in the opposite direction. Ashe told Fenton to stop. One minute later, officers found the truck lying on the driver’s side. A forensic collision reconstructionist concluded Fenton was driving at 119 kilometres per hour when he lost control on a curve. Hill used his baton to smash the rear window of the truck and he and another officer pulled Ashe out. She was unresponsive at first, but then complained of pain in her head, neck and arm.

Fenton was trapped. He was unconscious but breathing. He had a large wound on the top of his head. Firefighters cut the roof off the truck to get him out. At the hospital, Fenton was found to have undisplaced fractures to his C6 and C7 vertebrae, a scalp laceration and a concussion.

Ashe had lacerations and abrasions on her legs and right hand, and pain in her neck, back, knee and wrists. She was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury, soft tissue injuries, anxiety and depression.

The Crown asked for a sentence of 18 months. Defence lawyer Dale Marshall asked for a 12-month sentence.

Fenton is a changed person and recognizes he has an alcohol problem, said Mrozinski. He has made good use of his time in custody, attending Alcoholics Anonymous. He has also been accepted into a residential treatment program.

“Ideally, when he is released he will be well on his way to recovery but it is a life-long process. Mr. Fenton must never consume alcohol again.”

Mrozinski found the aggravating factors to be the death of Beckett, the level of Fenton’s impairment, the speed of his driving, two prior 24-hour prohibitions and his failure to stop for police.

Fenton could have refused to drive. However, he decided to drive knowing he was impaired and knowing “in a way that few people could know, the consequences of driving while impaired. This is what is so troubling about these offences,” said Mrozinski.

She found his early guilty plea, his acceptance of responsibility and his commitment to rehabilitation to be mitigating factors.

“The community’s denunciation for this conduct must be clear. Mr. Fenton, but for the steps you have taken to address your alcohol addiction, which shows insight and acceptance of responsibility and will ensure the safety of the public upon your release, the sentence might well have been longer.

“Regrettably for the victims, Mr. Fenton… all of this will be too little too late. They would rather have their loved ones come home or live a life free from lingering pain, anxiety or financial stress as a result of your accident. Your rehabilitation serves as cold comfort.”

Mrozinski imposed a six-month concurrent sentence for fleeing from police.

Fenton must pay a $1,000 fine and $500 in victim fine surcharges on the two counts. He is prohibited from driving for five years at the end of his prison sentence.

Outside court, Aschenbrenner, supported by friends from his “RCMP family” said he was disheartened not being allowed to read his statement and by the sentence.

“Eighteen months and for running from police he gets six months concurrent, which means there’s no reason to pull over for police. You get the same outcome. Why not run from police?”

Aschenbrenner said he’s working to raise awareness about the need for mandatory minimum sentences for impaired drivers.

“Sentences will continue to be three or four years when someone is killed and 18 months when someone is injured by an impaired driver,” said Aschenbrenner. “I don’t want anyone else to go through this. It’s not fair to my kids. It’s not fair to my wife’s family. It’s not fair to me. Who actually has to die for changes to be made?”

His sons are now seven and four and their mother is in the back of their minds every day, he said.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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