A Saskatchewan man has been sentenced to five years behind bars for his role in a collision northeast of Edmonton last year that killed two teens and seriously injured a third.
Christopher D. Rempel of Caronport, Sask., received his sentence on Monday afternoon, after a judge accepted a joint sentencing submission of five years in jail followed by a five-year driving prohibition.
Rempel pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm.
Rempel was also originally charged with operation of a motor vehicle while impaired. Court heard Monday that tests taken after the crash showed a blood alcohol level of 0.194, more than twice the legal limit.
Keithan ‘Kiki’ Peters, 16, and Alexandra Ollington, 17, of Sherwood Park, Alta., were killed in a crash on Highway 21 just north of Township Road 542 on Sept. 17, 2020.
Morgan Maltby, 15, of Fort Saskatchewan, was also in the vehicle with the teens and suffered what her family called “life-altering injuries.”
The teens were in an SUV that was heading south on the divided highway when it was hit by a northbound pickup truck driving in the south lane, RCMP said at the time of the crash. Rempel was operating the truck that was heading in the wrong direction, court heard.
A number of people stood outside the courthouse Monday to show their support, while watching the proceedings on a live stream. Court read and heard more than 25 victim impact statements from family and friends of the victims.
Crown prosecutor Mark Facundo said in court the number of victim impact statements was “by far the most I’ve ever had in any sentencing. It speaks to the number of people the three teens influenced, befriended and have impacted.”
Alexandra Ollington’s mom Maria Popiwchak read a statement, recalling her daughter as an eternal optimist who was good, kind and caring. She said her daughter had dreams of one day becoming an EMT so she could help others.
“My life is empty. I don’t want to live in this world without her,” she said, adding she was thankful to have her daughter in her life even for a short while.
“In our short life together we had many challenges — (the) loss of three grandparents and her father,” Popiwchak said.
“We thought these challenges were behind us so we could reap the benefit of her extraordinary destiny. I was wrong.”
Popiwchak said Rempel stole her opportunity to say goodbye to her daughter and tell her one last time how much she loved her.
“You may go to jail for a while but you will still be able to wish your family Merry Christmas, say you love them,” she said. “By contrast, you have given me a life sentence.”
Morgan Maltby, who survived the collision, cried as she read her statement, saying it has impacted her life in several awful ways.
“I can’t dance anymore — something I love and have been doing since the age of six,” she said. “All of those things have come to an end now. I am in too much pain.”
She said she doesn’t remember much but the first thing she does recall is her family telling her why she was in hospital and about the deaths of her friend and boyfriend.
“I never thought I would have to go through (that) at 15,” Malbty said.
The teen said the day plays over and over in her mind and in her dreams, adding she’s had countless nightmares about the collision.
“I wish I was the one who had died in the accident,” she said. “I still feel that way and I will for a long time.”
Maltby’s mother, Cheryl Sutherland, said her daughter was taken to the Stollery Children’s Hospital and put in a medically induced coma after an eight-hour surgery to repair her femur, tibia and severed wrist.
She said her daughter’s first words to her after waking up from the coma were “kill me.” She said physically, Morgan will heal but the emotional impacts of her trauma will remain.
Speaking outside the courthouse after the sentence was handed down, Maltby said her recovery was the hardest thing she’s ever had to go through.
“I went days and days crying, not wanting to get out of bed, asking myself why I was the one still here, saying I wish I wasn’t. But having all these people around and having all the support through everybody — even people I didn’t know, just the whole community — everybody has been there for me throughout all of this and I wouldn’t have been able to get through it alone.”
She also remembered her boyfriend and friend, saying Peters was a special young man and Ollington was the mom of the group.
“(Keithan) had so many gifts; he lit up every room, he filled everybody’s heart and put a smile on every single person’s face. I know myself and his family and every single one of his friends will forever miss that,” she said.
“When you had a problem or if you needed a ride or any little thing, (Alex) was the person you went to. She was the shoulder to cry on, she was the person to give you the best hug when you needed it.”
Maltby and her mother thanked everyone for the support they’ve received over the past several months. Both would like to see stricter penalties for impaired driving.
“Our main goal here is really to spread the message about intoxicated driving,” Maltby said, adding she hopes no one has to suffer like she and the other victims’ families and friends are suffering.
“We don’t feel like we’re getting the justice we deserve. This is something I will live with for life, they will live with this for their life and he gets five years and it won’t make up for it. He will live with it too, but five years is not appropriate, I don’t think.”
“We’re thankful that some justice has carried out and that he at least pleaded guilty and is admitting that he has done some wrong,” Sutherland added.
However, she said the sentence is a “slap on the wrist.”
“A five-year penalty may not be enough of a deterrent for someone to actually rehabilitate… It doesn’t change all the lives that were affected.”
Rempel’s lawyer Mervin Nidesh said his client accepts full responsibility for his actions and acknowledges he is deserving of the punishment.
“The moral of the story is: don’t drink and drive. We gotta remind ourselves and we have to take the keys away from our friends and families. The days of going down the road like that have to stop,” Nidesh said outside court Monday afternoon.
Court heard Rempel is still receiving psychiatric care for depression, psychosis, sleep disorder and anxiety following the collision.
Before handing down the sentence, Judge Karl Wilberg listed the names of each of the people who read victim impact statements.
“The things that mean the most to us are the people closest to us. Their loss is the deepest that humans can sustain. Sometimes it’s a loss that there seems to be no recovery from,” he said.
“What I saw today time after time as victim after victim came forward was that greatest courage is those people who have to go on with life, have to try and go on with life.”
He said the immediate families of the victims are particularly consumed by grief, anger and depression, yet somehow find the strength to carry on.
“If we do not support one another, the fabric of our community would come to pieces.”
Rempel, who sat quietly in court wearing a dark blue dress shirt and a face mask, then addressed the court to offer his apology. His wife was in court, sitting to the side of him off camera.
“To the families, I know many of you wish I were dead and I wish I were dead too in that accident. But I wish I died five minutes, an hour, years before,” he said.
“I have not very good memories but I know my hands were on the wheel and I am responsible for taking the lives of two innocent teens and grievously injuring another.
“I will burn in hell for what I’ve done. I know this… I am sorry.”
Court heard Rempel did not have a prior criminal record.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.