Beverlee Jayne Russell stood silently as she was sentenced to a six-year federal prison term yesterday for being impaired behind the wheel and causing the death of a Cole Harbour man and injuring several others last summer.
The 54-year-old Cole Harbour mother of two was emotional at times during the three-hour sentencing hearing at Dartmouth provincial court.
But when it came time for Associate Chief Judge Brian Gibson to hand down his sentence, Russell, sporting a purple jacket over a white summer dress, stood silent and looked mostly downward.
Gibson gave Russell a five-year prison term for impaired driving causing the death of 57-year-old retired teacher Gary Pfinder.
She was then handed concurrent sentences of three, two and two years for separate counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.
Gibson added an additional year of federal prison time for failing to stop at the scene of the first accident.
Crown attorney Paul Carver was asking for a prison sentence of eight years. Defence lawyer Pat Atherton suggested five to six years.
“It was a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened,” Gibson told the courtroom, adding it was Russell, and no one else, who decided to drink and then get behind the wheel.
On Aug. 3, 2009, Russell fled the scene of one collision on Cole Harbour Road before causing a second, multi-vehicle crash that claimed the life of Pfinder. The second crash took place at the intersection of Cole Harbour Road and Forest Hills Parkway.
The court heard during sentencing that Russell, driving a maroon sedan, was over two times above the legal blood alcohol limit. She also slammed into the back of the Pfinder’s car over two times the posted speed limit of 60 km/h.
Five seconds before impact, Russell’s car was driving 128 km/h and at 100 per cent throttle.
“We thought it was going to be a bit stiffer than what it is,” the victim’s brother, Chuck Pfinder, said in regards to the sentence.
“But apparently this follows case law — and regardless of the length of the sentence, it’s not going to bring our brother back.”
‘I cannot imagine the void I put in your life’
Fighting back tears, Beverlee Jayne Russell looked at a dozen family members of Gary Pfinder and offered an apology.
“I am truly sorry,” she said inside the courtroom during her sentencing hearing yesterday.
“I cannot imagine the void I put in your life,” she also stated during her roughly minute-long prepared statement.
“I am alone responsible for my actions.”
Russell, who pleaded guilty to the five charges she was being sentenced for, had only one previous criminal conviction, for assault back in 2004.
The court heard during sentencing that Russell has battled alcoholism and depression for the past several years, which began around the time she separated from her husband.
She also had at least three times tried to commit suicide by overdosing on pain medication.
The most recent attempt was March 29, when she voluntarily admitted herself into hospital.
Prior to Russell speaking, two of Pfinder’s siblings read victim impact statements.
The first was Pfinder’s younger brother Chuck, who said outside court that he felt Russell’s apology was “sincere sounding.”
“I do believe she is sorry,” he said.
“What holds it back somewhat is she still has never admitted that she was drinking that day.”
Beverlee Jayne Russell was also handed a 10-year ban on driving a motor vehicle. The Crown was looking for a lifetime ban.