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Natuashish woman sentenced to 18 months for impaired driving death

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NATUASHISH, N.L. —

A Natuashish woman was sentenced to 18 months in jail on Jan. 31 after pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death.

Debra Rich, 25, pleaded guilty to the charge and three counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm from an incident in the remote northern community in 2016.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Rich and five other people were in a truck that went off the road on Sept. 14 just after 8 p.m. When police arrived on the scene people were already being treated for their injuries and Rich was in a ditch approximately 50 feet from the truck, which appeared to have rolled several times. Some of the other occupants of the vehicle told the RCMP Rich had been drinking. When an officer showed up at the hospital with a warrant for a blood sample from Rich she told police, “I only had six shots and my cousin took the wheel.”

Some of the occupants of the vehicle sustained serious injuries, including the driver and a young woman, Victoria Rich, who succumbed to her injuries.

Shaquille Jack, one of the passengers, told police they had all been drinking and were driving around Natuashish waiting for the Northern Ranger ferry to arrive. He said one of the other passengers tried to take the keys from Rich because they thought she was too drunk to drive.

Other passengers confirmed they were passing around a 40 oz bottle of Royal Reserve and smoking marijuana. Todd Rich, who suffered numerous injuries in the incident, told police that Debra Rich was “being a bad driver.”

“He felt she was trying to show off and see how fast she could go but he did not know how fast she was driving,” the statement of facts read.

He told police the accused hit some bumps, almost lost control and another passenger in the front grabbed the wheel. She responded, “No. Don’t grab it” and then she lost control of the truck. The truck left the road and rolled three times.

The blood sample taken from Rich could not confirm whether she was impaired or not but she confirmed in open court, and in consultation with her counsel, that the injuries suffered by the victims and the death of Victoria Rich were caused by her having driven while impaired by alcohol.  

A joint submission by the Crown and defense counsel asked for 18 months incarceration for the offence of impaired driving causing death, nine months imprisonment on each of the three counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm to run concurrently with each other and the 18 months of imprisonment, a driving prohibition of two years, and a period of probation for two years.

Judge Frances Knickle accepted the joint submission, which was based on the mitigating factors of Rich not having a previous record and her pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for the crime.

Knickle pointed out in her decision that there are difficulties with proving a number of the offences. The blood sample taken from her wasn’t usable so there would be problems proving Rich’s blood alcohol level.

Also, Rich showed a lot of remorse, which Knickle took into account.

“I fully accept that Ms. Rich is genuinely remorseful about what has happened,” Knickle said. “I have observed her while in court, and it was apparent to me that the consequences of what has happened weigh heavily on her. She has lost a close family member and has been the cause of injuries to other friends and family as a result of her drinking and driving.”

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