Prison for driver in 2018 fatal South Dundas ATV crash

The Cornwall courthouse at 29 Second Street West. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – A South Dundas woman has been sentenced after an all-terrain vehicle crash near Iroquois nearly three years ago that killed one of her friends and seriously hurt another.

Montana Gabriel, 23, was sentenced this afternoon (Friday) by Judge Nathalie Champagne to five-and-a-half years in prison (66 months). With credit for pretrial custody of 14 months, she will serve a little over four years (52 months).

The Crown had been seeking 7-8 years in prison while defence lawyer Jeffrey Langevin had argued for a sentence of a little over three years (40 months).

Gabriel had been found guilty of impaired driving causing death, criminal negligence causing death, impairing driving causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm following a trial in September 2020.

Court heard how Gabriel had taken her new ATV out for a run on Aug. 17, 2018 as an alcohol-fueled party at her house was winding down. She took Chasity Shedrick and Jasmine Saunders as passengers, which the ATV was not designed for. Gabriel drove on the opposite side of Broken Second Road then into a ditch full of tall grass “where she drove for some distance at a rate of speed sufficient to launch her ATV airborne at a 14 degree incline” where it struck an open gate. The ATV continued to the other side of the ditch and rolled, throwing all three women.

Jasmine Saunders, 18, died in October 2018 in a hospital intensive care unit of a traumatic brain injury almost two months after the crash.

The other woman on the ATV, 18-year-old Chasity Shedrick, broke her spine in two places, as well as her right knee, right wrist, her elbow and collarbone. “Her wrist has never fully recovered,” Champagne said.

Gabriel was also injured in the crash. She sustained a concussion, broken spine, cracked ribs, a collapsed lung and broke her leg.

Judge Champagne says there were a number of aggravating factors in the case, including Gabriel’s attempt to blame it on alcohol.

“The level of moral blameworthiness is high. Her attempt to blame it on alcohol is not acceptable. She made the choice to drink. She made the choice to get behind the wheel of her ATV,” Champagne said.

While the Crown and defence had differing characterizations of whether Gabriel was remorseful, the judge believed she was. “I accept that she’s truly sorry for what happened,” Champagne said.

Prior to the sentencing, Gabriel addressed the court.

“I am truly sorry and honestly if I could switch places with Jasmine, I would. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen and I have learned by lesson. I truly am sorry to everybody. I am sorry for the loss of Jasmine. I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused,” she sobbed.

Earlier in the day, court heard at least 10 victim impact statements from various family members, relatives and friends. All of them were read into the record by Crown attorney Isabel Blanchard.

Gabriel, seated with her family, started crying and hugged her relatives before she was lead away by the court bailiff.

In addition to her prison sentence, Gabriel will have her driver’s licence suspended for seven years.

“No sentence I impose can repair the devastation, heartbreak and anxiety left behind by this tragic and senseless crime. But my sentence must take into account the harm done to the victims and their families, who are also victims. It must also take into account the gravity of the offence. One victim lost her life. One victim has suffered permanent physical injury and has not recovered her mental health as of yet,” judge said.

She added that it also had to account for the fact Gabriel is a young person with no prior criminal record. “Her life has and will continue to be forestalled by these events for a long time,” Champagne said.