'I felt nothing,' slain child's mom says of sentence
Published Friday, November 12, 2010 5:07PM PST
The parents of a little girl killed by a drunk driver say that Carol Berner's two-and-a-half-year sentence shows a need for fundamental changes to Canadian laws.
Laurel Middelaer, whose four-year-old daughter Alexa was run down in 2008, said she couldn't place blame on Crown prosecutors or the judge for Berner's light sentence.
"They were bound by 25 years of case law, 25 years of light sentencing," Middelaer said outside Surrey provincial court Friday.
"I think we need to ask ourselves, as British Columbians, are we okay with this?"
She and her husband Michael said that Canadians should lobby their provincial and federal representatives for changes to drunk-driving laws, including minimum sentences.
"This is a crime that kills more people in this country than any other criminal activity," she said. "I'm calling for people to step up to the plate."
Middelaer said that she was emotionless as Justice Peder Gulbransen handed Berner her sentence, which includes a five-year ban on driving.
"I felt nothing. I felt ambivalent," Middelaer said.
But she broke down into tears when she spoke her daughter's name, pleading for tougher penalties for drunk driving.
"If there's a reason to change, Alexa is the reason to change," she said.
Berner's lawyer, David Tarnow, said he will file an appeal of the sentence as early as next week and seek bail for his client while it is heard. Tarnow said that, based on case law, his client should not spend any time behind bars, partly because she was not "excessively intoxicated" at the time of the incident.
He also said Gulbransen made several errors during the trial and argued that Berner had no previous criminal record prior to the accident.
Alexa was run down alongside her aunt Daphne Johanson as the pair fed a horse at the side of a country road in Delta, south of Vancouver.
Alexa was fatally wounded and died a short time later at BC Children's Hospital. Johanson suffered extensive injuries. She spent four weeks in hospital after undergoing surgery and spent several months confined to a wheelchair.
During the trial, video evidence showed Berner admitting to an undercover police officer posing as a new friend that she drank several glasses of wine before getting behind the wheel.
At a sentencing hearing earlier this week, Middelaer's family offered wrenching testimony about how the crash had changed their lives.
Michael Middelaer told the court he became a "broken and gutted soul" after his daughter's death and his family is a "three-legged stool, functional but unstable."
Berner promised to earn their forgiveness and begged not to be sent to jail.
The Crown requested a three to five-year sentence, while the defence wanted a suspended sentence that could be served in the community without time behind bars.
The Middelaer family was hoping Berner would spend 10 years in prison.