Unlicensed drunk driver who left friend to die after crash loses appeal

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TORONTO - An unlicensed drunk driver who went on a "reckless escapade" with his friends, one of whom he would leave to die underwater after the car landed upside down in a stream, has lost an appeal.

The 12-year sentence Lawrence Bush received is the highest sentence Ontario's top court has ever upheld for such a crime.

Bush was already on bail for an earlier impaired driving charge when he went for a ride with friends at speeds of up to 170 kilometres an hour in 2009 near Sarnia, Ont. His blood alcohol level was about four times the legal limit.

He had received his eighth conviction for driving while suspended just 10 days earlier. The last time Bush had a driver's licence was 1985.

Bush pleaded guilty in 2010 to criminal negligence causing death, impaired driving causing death, driving while disqualified and breach of an undertaking to abstain from consumption of alcohol.

The Crown had asked for a sentence of 10 years, but Superior Court Judge Joseph Donohue sentenced Bush to 12 years for his "outrageous" conduct.

Bush appealed, arguing 12 years was outside the normal range of sentences in fatal drunk driving cases.

Although the sentence was "undoubtedly high," the Appeal Court's three-judge panel said Bush's "egregious" behaviour justifies it.

"It endangered the community. It was fuelled by excessive overconsumption of drugs and alcohol," the court wrote in the reasons for its decision, released Monday.

"His conduct after the crash was equally troubling and callous...His driving history confirms a pattern into which these tragic events seem all too easily to fit."

Andrew Murie, the CEO for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, said there have been sentences of about 14 years for similar offences in Ontario, but they weren't appealed. Across the country the courts have handed out sentences of 20 years and even life, he said.

"What we're starting to see is some recognition that these are preventable," he said in an interview.

"The courts, in my 15 years for MADD, have moved this from a typical two years for a death or even a conditional sentence into sentences that at least have two figures."

Bush and three of his friends were drinking and taking Percocet pills while on a "drunken high-speed 'crop tour'" of Lambton County on June 21, 2009, the court said.

At one point passenger Roland Bruno clung to the hood of the car — so-called hood surfing — while Bush drove at more than 110 km/h.

Even after driving the car into a ditch and his friends pleaded with him to slow down, Bush "continued his outrageous driving," the court said.

With Bruno back in the car, Bush drove off the road again, flipping his car and landing upside down in a stream.

Bush escaped, but two of his passengers were trapped in the car, including Bruno, who was unconscious from the alcohol and whose head was underwater.

Bush refused to help his friends who were stuck until they would agree to a fabricated story to tell police, the court said. The other passenger went for help and when police arrived more than 20 minutes later Bush denied being the driver or knowing any of the passengers.

Bruno was pulled from the car by a passer-by, but was already dead, the court found.

Gord Cudmore, Bush's lawyer, said they will consider taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but haven't yet made any decisions.

Organizations: Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, MADD, Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Ontario, TORONTO, Sarnia Lambton

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