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Opinion: Drunk drivers left ‘terrible trail of death, injury, heartbreak and destruction’ in Burnaby

Two families were forever changed when Roberto Francisco and Sumeet Mangat decided to get behind the wheel in June 2019
drunk driving
Charles Masala and Louise Landreth were killed by drunk drivers in two separate crashes in Burnaby in June 2019.

This week, for the second time in less than a month, I found myself listening to Crown prosecutor Mark Myhre read out the same quote from a Supreme Court of Canada decision written 25 years ago.

“Every year, drunk driving leaves a terrible trail of death, injury, heartbreak and destruction.  From the point of view of numbers alone, it has a far greater impact on Canadian society than any other crime.  In terms of the deaths and serious injuries resulting in hospitalization, drunk driving is clearly the crime which causes the most significant social loss to the country.” 

Both times I’ve heard Myhre read the quote, he's been in a Vancouver court telling a judge that a Burnaby driver deserves to go to jail for a long time.

Earlier this week, it was New Westminster resident Roberto Francisco, 41, who killed 69-year-old accountant, mother and grandmother Louise Landreth near Brentwood Mall on June 7, 2019, while she was on a walk during a visit from Ontario to see her son and his young family.

Last month, it was Surrey resident Sumeet Mangat, 25, who killed Charles Masala, an engineer, philanthropist, husband and father of two young children, while he was cycling on the side of Burnaby Mountain on June 29, 2019 – just three weeks after Landreth’s death.

Statements read out at both hearings, by a husband, a wife, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and friends, made the words of the Supreme Court all too real – “a terrible trail of death, injury, heartbreak and destruction.”

The families’ words made it clear Landreth and Masala were each at the centre of a web of loving, supportive relationships torn apart in a matter of seconds by two people who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel.

“My hands, still to this day, continue to start to dial her number, but I catch myself before the phone number is completed,” Landreth’s oldest daughter, Jocelyn Kaastra, told the court. “Some days, I still think she’s going to get off that plane and call me and say in a cheerful voice, ‘I’ll see you soon. I love you.’ But that will never happen. Without a goodbye or her gentle love, my grief stands still.”

Like Landreth’s family, Masala’s family lost not just love and emotional support in June 2019, but practical help and financial support, too.

“I feel ill prepared to raise my children alone,” Charles Masala’s widow, Michelle, told the court. “I lost my partner and my support. With every passing year, this world becomes so much more difficult.”

One word that kept coming up in the victim impact statements was “senseless.”

Why was this crippling grief suddenly dumped onto the backs of these families for them to carry around for the rest of their lives?

No reason – just two men who decided they could probably drink and drive that day and not get caught.

From the facts in court, they seem like two ordinary guys, with no previous criminal records, now facing years in jail and a lifetime of guilt.

“I will never be able to forgive myself,” Francisco said.

There's no way he or Mangat ever imagined, when they stepped into their vehicles in June 2019, that they wouldn’t just end up back at home or work after getting away with driving drunk – but would end up here, in court, listening to all the people whose lives they’d destroyed.  

Listening to their cases, it’s chilling to think of the razor-thin line that separates them from so many others who get behind the wheel after a few drinks, thinking not of the “trail of death, injury, heartbreak and destruction” they might be starting down, but hoping only they won’t get caught.

I scan the Vancouver court lists every day, and, every day, dotted throughout, are the names of people charged with driving impaired.

To tell you the truth, I’ve mostly skimmed past them because the courts seem to deal with them so casually.

Just today in Vancouver provincial court, I heard a Burnaby woman facing drunk-driving charges under the Criminal Code has agreed to a plea deal and is preparing to plead guilty to the lesser Motor Vehicle Act offence of driving without due care and attention.

I doubt anyone will make much of a fuss.

Because that’s the thing about drunk driving; it doesn’t seem serious until it’s devastating.

So I find myself wishing there was a way to make people who drink and drive see that the stakes are so much higher than a big ticket and a driving suspension.

I wish there was some way to make them see what Francisco and Mangat only see now – it’s not worth it, not even one time.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor