“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
— George Santayana (1863-1952), Spanish philosopher, novelist, poet and essayist
In July 2009, I was touring Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s, walking down a corridor, when elevator doors opened right in front of me and a scruffy-looking man with facial abrasions and a neck brace was escorted off.
“Oh, hey Sam,” one of the corrections officers said flatly.
Sam responded with a silent nod of recognition.
Clearly, he was a regular.
And no wonder.
“Sam” was Robert Samuel Noseworthy, a chronic drunk driver with a lengthy criminal record.
I recognized him as being the man then accused — now convicted — of having been driving drunk when he rammed a woman’s car off the Trans-Canada Highway on July 11, 2009, leaving her injured and traumatized.
Her car had flipped several times before landing in a ditch.
It led to his 14th charge for drinking and driving.
Apparently, the lifetime driving ban he was given in 2003 just hadn’t stuck.
This was the same “Sam” who was convicted of criminal negligence causing death in 1984. He got 2 1/2 years back then for taking someone’s life — robbing two young children of their mother and a husband of his wife.
At that moment, witnessing the exchange between the guard and the inmate, I was reminded of the old Looney Tunes cartoons featuring Wile E. Coyote and Sam the sheepdog, whose interactions had become so mundane, so routine, so expected — the coyote trying to steal sheep, the sheepdog trying to protect them — that they’d begin each day by punching a time clock.
The big difference here was that this wasn’t funny.
And that the Sam at the Pen had taken on the coyote’s role of antagonist — in his case, from behind the wheel of a car.
What do you do with someone like Noseworthy? Someone who has a blatant disregard for anything but his own desires and a determination to drive that no court order can deter?
Well, what the courts are trying to do is have 60-year-old Noseworthy declared a long-term offender.
What that means is that once he serves whatever jail time he gets for his latest example of reckless behaviour, he would be supervised in the community.
According to federal legislation:
“The National Parole Board (NPB), under the authority of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, will impose a tailored set of conditions on an offender after the expiration of his/her prison sentence. These conditions will include keeping the peace and prohibiting the possession of firearms. Special conditions, such as abstaining from intoxicants and participating in counselling, may also be imposed by the NPB during the supervision period.”
But even if that designation is applied to Noseworthy, is that enough? He’s already been convicted and jailed multiple times and prohibited from driving, and yet he always manages to get a driver’s licence and keys to a car.
He has demonstrated, consistently, by his behaviour, that having him in the community puts the community at risk. He should not be given the opportunity to kill or maim someone else.
In other jurisdictions
The United States has the criminal charge of vehicular homicide when someone has been killed by the misuse or careless use of a vehicle. Jail time gets stepped up if there are aggravating factors, such as the driver being grossly negligent, impaired by drugs or alcohol or having a history of similar offences.
Some Canadians want the charge of vehicular homicide added to our Criminal Code, and perhaps its time has come.
Another tool that American justice uses to try to prevent drunk drivers from repeating themselves is the court-ordered alcohol monitoring bracelet — like the one currently being sported by actress Lindsay Lohan.
The clunky anklet is worn by people serving conditional sentences at home and monitors their sweat for alcohol content. It also sends regular electronic reports to the authorities about the person’s location.
That sounds more effective than federal supervision of the person in the community, but the technology is expensive.
Both are measures that might eventually come into play in Canada, but where Noseworthy is concerned, time is of the essence. Before long he’ll be back on the street again.
Clear and present danger
Perhaps the public would be better served by having Noseworthy declared a dangerous offender, which means he’d be kept in jail — not released to the community for supervision.
In Canada, the term is usually applied to “the most dangerous violent and sexual predators in the country.”
I’d argue that chronic drunk drivers who repeatedly engage in reckless behaviour and put others at risk are dangerous and violent.
The Criminal Code says a person can be designated a dangerous offender if, among other things:
“the offence for which the offender has been convicted is a serious personal injury offence … and the offender constitutes a threat to the life, safety or physical or mental well-being of other persons … (and displays) a pattern of repetitive behaviour … (shows) a failure to restrain his or her behaviour and a likelihood of causing death or injury to other persons, or inflicting severe psychological damage on other persons, through failure in the future to restrain his or her behaviour. …”
I’m no legal expert, but that sure sounds like Noseworthy.
Repeatedly drinking and driving, and causing injury, trauma and death to unsuspecting members of the public? Check.
Ignoring court-ordered bans and prohibitions? Check.
Failing to restrain his destructive behaviour? Check.
No signs of repentance or willingness to be rehabilitated? Check.
He’s had plenty of chances. He needs to be kept off the street.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s
story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.