DRUMHELLER, Alta. –
A 42-year-old Alberta man admitted to being under the influence of fentanyl and pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the 2022 deaths of 20-year-old Macy Boyce and 21-year-old Ethan Halford.
Richard Bell of Elnora entered his plea in a Drumheller courtroom as the victims’ loved ones watched on, holding up several photos of the Calgary couple to express their deep sadness and frustration.
Bell also pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing bodily harm to the passenger of the vehicle he was operating as well as refusing to provide a blood sample.
According to RCMP, Bell was driving under the influence on June 17 when his vehicle rear-ended the car Boyce and Halford were in on Highway 21, just north of Trochu, Alta.
The collision pushed the Calgary couple’s vehicle across the centre line and into the path of an oncoming semi-trailer truck.
Boyce and Halford were pronounced dead at the scene.
Macy Boyce, 20, and Ethan Halford, 21, died in a collision on Highway 21, just north of Trochu, on Friday, June 17, 2022. (Supplied by Family) Corey
MacPherson, Boyce’s mother, is still reeling over this loss, but says a powerful message was sent to the accused in court.
“We hold up these photos and we wear our red t-shirts because we want our kids to be seen. We want the accused to know who these people are,” she said.
“This is Macy Boyce and Ethan Halford and they were an amazing couple. Individually, they were amazing kids. I think it sends a powerful statement to the people in the courtroom and to the viewers at home that these are real people.
“These are our kids who are taken from us horribly and violently and unnecessarily by someone who didn’t care.”
Loved ones of Macy Boyce and Ethan Halford were at the courthouse in Drumheller on Oct. 31, holding up several photos of the Calgary couple to express their deep sadness and frustration.Rob
Hilditch described the young couple as having the most beautiful smiles and positive attitudes.
“We were just always hearing their stories and just their love for each other. That’s the one thing all of us hold dear … the way that she looked at him and the way he looked at her,” Hilditch said.
Family friend Jennifer Merio also reminisced on the great times she had watching Boyce grow up and the influence she and Halford had on so many people.
“It sounds cheesy but we have to celebrate the little things, the everyday things,” she said.
“Macy and Ethan were both so resilient and so passionate about life.”
Loved ones of Macy Boyce and Ethan Halford were at the courthouse in Drumheller on Oct. 31, holding up several photos of the Calgary couple to express their deep sadness and frustration.
In honour of Boyce and Halford, family members and friends launched the ME Project last year – an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of impaired driving.
Sentencing and the reading of victim impact statements are now scheduled for Feb. 1 in Drumheller.
BELL CONSUMED ALCOHOL, HYDROMORPHONE, FENTANYL
In an agreed statement of facts from the Crown and defence, court heard Bell had consumed two Twisted Tea alcoholic beverages while driving to Hanna, Alta., for groceries on June 17 in his grey Kia Forte.
Earlier that day, he had also fallen off a ladder while working, which aggravated a pre-existing back injury. To address pain issues, he self-medicated with Tylenol 3s (with codeine) and non-prescribed doses of hydromorphone and oxycodone.
After finishing his grocery shopping, Bell then picked up two of his friends and began driving back to Elnora.
During the drive, Bell asked one of his passengers to crush him a dosage of hydromorphone. Shortly after consuming what he believed to be crushed hydromorphone, Bell was advised he had actually been given a dosage of fentanyl.
Bell briefly pulled over, concerned he would be adversely affected by the opioid, which he also did not have a valid prescription for.
CAR TRAVELLING NEARLY 200 KILOMETRES PER HOUR
Believing he was not adversely affected, Bell consumed some chips and a sports drink before carrying on with his drive. His passengers described him as “groggy” and appearing to slow down a number of times.
The agreed statement of facts notes that at one point, Bell swerved into the oncoming lane of traffic, narrowly avoiding a vehicle travelling southbound on Highway 21.
According to witness reports, Bell continued driving northbound on Highway 21 and at 9:55 p.m., he rear-ended a Hyundai Elantra also travelling that same direction.
Bell was driving 196 to 197 kilometres per hour and did not apply any braking until 1.5 seconds prior to the collision, which slowed his Kia to 171 kilometres per hour at the point of impact with the Hyundai.
The Hyundai, driven by Boyce with her partner Halford as the passenger, was travelling 101 kilometres per hour on the highway with a posted speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour.
As a result of the collision, Bell’s Kia pushed the Hyundai into the southbound lane of Highway 21 and into the path of a picker truck travelling 70 kilometres per hour.
Halford was ejected from the Hyundai and died instantly, while Boyce was located deceased in the driver’s seat, still restrained by her seat belt.
Bell was observed unconscious and had to be cut out of his seatbelt to be removed from his vehicle. One of his passengers then injected Bell with a dosage of naloxone, before he regained consciousness and was treated by paramedics on scene.
DEFENCE SEEKS THREE- TO SEVEN-YEAR SENTENCE
The agreed statement of facts found RCMP had smelled alcohol on Bell’s breath and had reasonable suspicion that he was under the influence while driving.
Police say he was visibly inebriated, with slurred speech and a slowed reaction to questioning.
Bell agreed to provide a breath sample but refused a blood demand once he arrived at hospital. He was then arrested and charged as a result.
Defence lawyer Hugh Sommerville insists alcohol played little factor in the crash, but instead it was Bell’s drug consumption that was more concerning.
“He had actually consumed very little alcohol and he blew a caution on the roadside demand, so it would appear that the real danger here, the real tragedy, is that he inadvertently consumed fentanyl,” Sommerville said.
“He was given fentanyl and he had done the right thing to stop and to check himself but made the terrible, wrong decision of driving even though he had consumed fentanyl. Clearly, it reacted with him and he drove terribly and that resulted in the deaths of two young people.”
Sommerville adds that this isn’t about whether his client goes to jail, it’s about how many years he goes for.
“I could say that probably, the range on something like this, depending on the circumstances, is certainly federal time,” he said.
“I mean, we’re probably looking anywhere between three and seven years and that’s what will be argued.”
Crown prosecutor Ron Simenik disagrees with a lesser sentence and will be seeking the highest possible punishment.
“It’s ultimately up to the judge. We’re guided by case law and precedent, so in my view, this is a case approaching double digits.”
“I also am mindful that him accepting responsibility for this is a big factor we have to consider. It saves the family from having to relive the full trial and we do give consideration for such guilty pleas.”
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