''I'm deeply ashamed of my actions'

Drunk driver says crash was wake-up call for him

Rosie Mullaley rmullaley@thetelegram.com
Published on November 17, 2011
Lucas O'Keefe was in provincial court in St. John's Wednesday for his sentencing hearing. Eight months ago, O'Keefe drove drunk and smashed into another vehicle, injuring three people.- Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

His voice quivered and his hands shook as he began reading a letter he wrote to the people he hurt eight months ago.

"I'm deeply ashamed of my actions and for the pain I caused to you and your family," Lucas O'Keefe said during his sentencing hearing in provincial court in St. John's Wednesday.

"I'm terribly sorry."

Then, he suddenly stopped.

"Averill," he said to his lawyer, Averill Baker, "I can't read that."

Too emotional to continue, he handed the letter back to Baker, who finished reading it.

In it, O'Keefe spoke of the remorse he felt for injuring three people in March of this year, when he drove drunk and rammed his pickup truck into their car.

He wasn't in his right state of mind at the time, he wrote, and realizes now he needs help to overcome his addiction to alcohol.

"The accident was a big wake-up call for me ..." the letter states.

"I will never, ever let anything like that happen again."

The 30-year-old has pleaded guilty to five charges - two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm, refusing the breathalyzer, destroying RNC property (a police car) and failing to stop at the scene of an accident and offer assistance.

The accident happened at around 9:50 p.m. March 13.

O'Keefe was speeding east-bound on Topsail Road, near the Village Shopping Centre, when he rammed his Dodge Dakota into the back of a Chrysler Sebring, sending it in a tailspin over a sidewalk, through a chain-linked fence and back onto the road.

Police estimate O'Keefe was driving at a speed of at least 120 km/hr.

All three passengers in the Sebring - the driver, Joe Taylor; the front-seat passenger, Christine Coady and the back-seat passenger, Greg Coady - were injured in the crash.

While Taylor was sore and bruised, his injuries were not considered serious.

Christine Coady suffered painful soft-tissue damage to her shoulder, arm and face.

Greg Coady's injuries were more serious.

He was unconscious and unresponsive when paramedics arrived at the scene of the accident.

He was hospitalized for a week with head injuries that required 15 stitches.

O'Keefe's truck ended up on the other side of the road at the top of a steep embankment, lodged on a guard rail.

After the accident, he got out of the pickup and ran towards Columbus Drive, but came back when witnesses yelled at him.

Several people heard him say, "I f---ed up so bad this time ... I'm going to jail."

O'Keefe then got back in his truck and tried to put it in reverse, but was unable to move it.

When firefighters arrived minutes later, O'Keefe was sat on the guard rail having a cigarette.

"I can't believe I done this," he said to a firefighter.

With that, O'Keefe tried to run away again, but was chased by the firefighter. He made it past Tip Top store, by the front door of the Village Mall and the bus stop, where the firefighter jumped him.

O'Keefe threatened to kill him and his family if he didn't let him go.

When O'Keefe was put into the police van, he became enraged and tried to kick the partition inside. One of the officers captured his aggressive behaviour on video on his cellphone.

He was brought to RNC headquarters and refused to give a breath sample.

He's been in custody ever since.

While on the stand, O'Keefe fought back tears several times as he spoke of the difficulties he's had overcoming his alcohol problem.

However, he said he's determined to beat it and get back to his life as a welder.

O'Keefe pointed out he's been attending Alcoholics Anonymous and sees a psychologist at Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

Kevin Foley of Turnings was in the courtroom to support O'Keefe and wrote a letter to the court, stating that O'Keefe is sincere in his desire to change his behaviour.

"I'm not glad the accident happened," O'Keefe said, "but I'm glad I'm getting help because of it."

Baker told the court that because O'Keefe has shown such remorse and has taken every opportunity to deal with his problems, he should be sentenced to time served.

However, Crown prosecutor Nick Westera said a three-year jail term is more appropriate.

He pointed out that O'Keefe knew of his drinking problem a long time ago, "But you STILL drank and drove."

In July, O'Keefe was sentenced to 90 days time served for a drunk-driving incident that happened in December 2010.

Westera said the courts are giving stiffer sentences for such cases because society's intolerance to drunk driving.

Christine Coady, who was in the courtroom, agrees O'Keefe deserves jailtime.

"I think (a sentence of time served) is ludicrous," she told reporters outside court.

"Drunk drivers can't be getting behind the wheel and just putting everybody's lives (at risk)."

She said she and her brother's lives have changed drastically as a result of the accident.

She can only work a few hours a day at Coleman's deli, while her brother is a totally different person.

"My brother, he'll never be the same again ...," she said.

"One time he could paint and plaster a house within a week. He's not able to do that now. His memory is very, very short-term ... It's not there anymore.

"And his moods - one day, he's in a good mood, the next, he's mad at the whole world. It's hard to approach him, he's so angry and mad."

Coady said she will never forget that night.

"It puts me in tears (to think about it) because I didn't think my brother was alive ...," she said.

"I just thank God we're all alive."

Judge David Orr will render his decision on sentencing Nov. 28.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com