Driver who killed South Glengarry cyclist likely to avoid jail

The United Counties building and Provincial Offences Act courthouse at 22 Pitt Street in Cornwall. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – An early guilty plea is the only thing that saved Denis Piette from a sentence behind bars for the death of South Glengarry cyclist Francisco Teruel in 2014.

That assertion from Crown Jennifer Burke as sentencing submissions were heard in an Ontario Court of Justice courtroom on Pitt Street in Cornwall this afternoon (April 5).

The South Glengarry man pleaded guilty in February to a single count of careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act.

But the Crown is still seeking the maximum allowable non-jail sentence for careless driving – a $2,000 fine, an 18-24 month driver’s licence suspension, a year-and-half probation with strict conditions, 120 hours of community service and an order to complete a remedial driving course.

Piette’s lawyer, William Webber, is seeking a $1,000 fine, a six month licence suspension, a year probation to run concurrently with no community service and no remedial driving course. Webber also proposed certain conditions to allow Piette to drive to work and used machinery at his job which would be technically described as a motor vehicle.

Court heard it was a sunny day on September 25, 2014 with good road conditions and visibility on County Road 25 when Francisco Teruel, 62, was hit from behind while riding his bicycle.

Teruel was killed instantly after he was hit by the car’s bumper, flipping him into the windshield and then launching his body into a ditch, the court heard.

An O.P.P. traffic collision investigation showed Piette wasn’t excessively speeding, there were no drugs or alcohol in his system and there was no cell phone being used at the time of the collision.

But “a period of six seconds of inattention” and no attempt to avoid a collision led to the death of Teruel, who was 4-10 centimeters (2-4 inches) inside the fog line and was wearing brightly coloured cycling gear, Webber told the court.

The 44-year-old Piette is self-employed and has no children. He lives alone, has a grade ten education and relies heavily on driving for his maintenance and mechanic jobs in Ottawa and Montreal. Piette does have a female partner, who was in the court room today.

Webber said his client is remorseful and has suffered from “flashbacks as a result of this incident.” Webber referenced a pre-sentence report showing the level of remorse and responsibility Piette is taking for his actions.

“He has had trouble sleeping. He’s indicated to me that there has not been a day that’s gone by since this accident happened where he hasn’t relived it in his mind while driving in a motor vehicle, especially when he sees a cyclist on the road,” Webber said. The report also describes Piette as a “good person…one whose helpful and good character…polite, respectful and cooperative,” Webber said.

After his guilty plea, Piette took a defensive driving course. That’s why the defence is not asking for this condition in his sentence, but something that is being challenged by the Crown as to its authenticity. Crown Jennifer Burke wants the course verified by a probation officer.

As for his ability to pay the fine, Webber said his client has about $130,000 in debt for a mortgage on his house, a personal loan and credit card debt, but indicated he would be able to pay the fine.

Four victim impact statements from Francisco Teruel’s brother, wife, daughter and son were accepted by the court. The family chose not to attend the proceedings nor read their victim impact statements aloud.

But Crown Jennifer Burke read some excerpts from them to highlight the “devastating impact” the death has had on the family.

“Last September, my life fell apart. My love, my best friend, my partner of 37 years was killed in front of my house,” Burke read of the wife’s statement. “As I wake in the middle of the night from my nightmare and I look for him next to me, I realize that the nightmare continues and now my reality.”

Teruel’s daughter has also had suffered from depression and has had to take leave from work temporarily since her father’s death, Burke recounted. “It knocked the wind out of me,” Burke read from the daughter’s victim impact statement. “Every aspect of my life has been affected by this, from my health to my finances. But what seems to be the hardest out of all of this is that my father will never see me get married, he will never see me have children and my future children will never meet their grandfather,” Burke read.

Justice of the Peace Serge Legault said he needed some time to review all the case law but wanted to be expeditious to allow the victims some closure and for Piette to learn his fate.

While highly unlikely based on the sentencing submissions, Legault still has the discretion to impose a jail sentence.

The sentence will be delivered April 19, 2016.

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