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St. John's judge admonishes teen who caused traffic death

A member of Alyssa Power's family held a photo of Power (right) in the courtroom Monday, as Crown and defence lawyers argued a sentence for the teenage girl charged in connection with her death.
A member of Alyssa Power's family held a photo of Power (right) in the courtroom Monday, as Crown and defence lawyers argued a sentence for the teenage girl charged in connection with her death. - Tara Bradbury

The Honda Accord was, by all accounts, speeding as it came down Hamlyn Road toward Canada Drive the night of April 13.

Inside the car were four teenagers. In the driver's seat, a 17-year-old girl, was behind the wheel with no licence, registration or insurance, and under court orders not to drive or even possess keys to a vehicle. Next to her was a 15-year-old boy and behind her in the back seat was another boy, age 17. Next to him was 19-year-old new mother Alyssa Power.

Three of the teenagers weren't supposed to be anywhere near each other, having been given no-contact orders by a judge months earlier. They were in the car together at the intersection of Jensen Camp Road and Empire Avenue in St. John's when they were spotted by an RNC officer as they ran a stop sign.

After running another stop sign and noticing police behind her, the girl behind the wheel — who can't be named due to her age — stepped on the gas, refusing to stop for the flashing lights and sirens. By this time, the car was headed down Hamlyn Road in the city's Cowan Heights neighbourhood. Approaching a red light at the intersection at the bottom of the hill, the vehicle appeared to be gaining speed.

"(It) was flying," a witness driver told the RNC. "If it had wings, it would have been in the air."

Seconds later, Power was dead, leaving behind a one-month-old daughter. The boy next to her was bleeding, and had a broken arm that would later require surgery. The driver of an SUV with which the Accord had collided when it ignored the red light at the intersection was also injured, needing months of physiotherapy.

The teenage driver was bleeding from a number of severe lacerations to the face. When approached by police, she gave them a fake name until an officer arrived who recognized her.

Monday afternoon, having spent the eight months since the fatal crash in custody, the girl stood in a provincial courtroom and tried to explain herself to a judge while Power's family listened, clutching Power's photo.

"I'm sorry and I just want you to know that there were people in the car that were screaming for me to go and I only had one minute to make the decision and I was really scared," she said, her voice wavering. "There's nothing I can say here today that's going to make anything better, I just want you to know that's the only explanation I have.

"I did what anyone else would have done in that situation in the car if they were driving. That's what they would have done, and that's what I was told to do, even before getting in the vehicle."

Judge James Walsh was having none of it.

"You're blaming the others," he told the teenager. "It was very clear that you couldn't possess keys. It was very clear that you weren't allowed to drive. You saw a police car and you took off. It doesn't matter, frankly, what the others in the car may have been saying to you, whether it was go, stop, run, hide, park, jump out of the car. It doesn't matter. You're the one that made the decision. You were the one on the order not to possess keys, you were on the order not to drive, and you decided to take off. Just you. Not Miss Power, not (the boys). Just you. You were the driver and you took off."

The girl has pleaded guilty to charges of dangerous driving causing death, dangerous driving causing bodily harm and breaching court orders.

Crown prosecutor Nicole Hurley argued for a three-year jail sentence and a 10-year driving ban, noting the crash happened in a residential area on a Friday night. The fact that the girl didn't get behind the wheel with the intent to hurt anyone doesn't take away from the fact she was aware she was breaking the law, she said.

"These are not simple breaches of a child going out past curfew, these are breaches that caused death and bodily harm to a whole lot of people," Hurley said, adding the girl's driving ban was meant to stop such a tragedy from happening.

Defence lawyer Rhona Buchan argued for a sentence of time served and a five-year driving ban, noting the girl had experienced a rough childhood, suffers from possible ADHD, and has developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the collision.

Reading from a pre-sentence report, Buchan said the girl had expressed "extreme regret and extreme remorse and there's been a shift in her attitude" since the time of the accident, and she has displayed symptoms of depression, anxiety and guilt over Power's death. At times she has said she wishes she had died instead, Buchan noted.

"She took immediate responsibility," Buchan told Walsh.

"Full responsibility for causing the death of her friends and the injuries to the others, and took almost no responsibility for the fact she was in breach of court orders which should have prevented what happened," the judge interjected, noting the pre-sentence report had also indicated the girl continued to have criminal ideation.

Buchan noted the girl had been excelling in her studies while in prison, and has a grade average of 88.5 per cent. She hopes to go to post-secondary school in the fall and make enough money to start a trust fund for Power's baby daughter, Buchan said, telling the judge the girl has already done everything she can do while in custody, and must now transition back into the community. The Crown's suggested three-year sentence would be crushing and would hamper the girl's rehabilitation, Buchan explained.

The girl reiterated that sentiment when she addressed the court.

"If you do take the Crown's position, I would like to let you know that right now I'm in a class of three and four people and I have one teacher. If I don't get released to go to a real high school before I go to (a post-secondary institution), I'm going to be forced to go from a class of three people with one teacher to a class of 50 with a prof. And I might be smart, but I don't know how that's going to work for me. It's going to be really hard," she said.

She told Walsh she now realizes she needs to grow up and do things with her life.

"There's nothing I can say or do to take this back, but I can try to push forward and do better," she said. "I'm genuine when I say this. I realize the consequences that are going to happen if I disobey any of the orders in the future. In the past I didn't realize it. I didn't understand. I'm not saying I fully understand now, I'm just saying that I'm a lot more committed and I'm way more willing to co-operate."

Walsh will deliver his sentencing decision in the new year.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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