Oscar Benjumea admits that in July 2020 his driving caused the death of three passengers in his vehicle. He also admits he fled the scene without checking on his friends.
At a sentencing hearing on Monday in Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench, the Crown asked the judge to impose a 13-year prison sentence.
“On July 3, 2020, the world was deprived of three young, kind and compassionate souls,” prosecutor Kate Andress said. “The offences had a significant victim impact.”
Benjumea is charged with three counts of dangerous driving causing death and one count of leaving the scene of a collision.
According to an agreed statement of facts filed with the court in May, Benjumea, now 27, was out bar-hopping hours before the crash with his friend Faisel Yousef. The men ended up at Spotlight Cabaret in Old Strathcona and began chatting with Emma MacArthur and Georgia Donovan.
At closing time, the women paid for their drinks and food, while the men split their bill for 20 single-ounce shots of tequila, two double-ounce mixed drinks and some fish tacos.
Benjumea later admitted he consumed four shots and a double-ounce drink.
He climbed behind the wheel of his 2018 Audi RS5. Yousef sat in the front seat while the two women sat in the back.
Less than 10 minutes later, the three passengers were dead or dying.
Benjumea raced along Calgary Trail at speeds well above the 60 km/h posted limit. When he hit a curve around 55th Avenue, he lost control of his vehicle, slammed into a curb and became airborne, crashing into a Starbucks building.
He had hit a maximum speed of 186 km/h when he lost control.
Benjumea left the scene and was arrested at his house the next day. According to the agreed statement of facts, Benjumea asked police, “There was four people in the vehicle and I’m the only alive one?”
The constable told him everyone else had died.
‘He drove in a patently dangerous manner’
Andress told Justice Peter Michalyshyn that she believes there are a number of factors that justify a lengthy prison term.
“It is aggravating that he consumed that amount of alcohol,” Andress said. “He knowingly took their lives into his hands when he knew he’d been drinking and was disqualified from driving.”
In October 2019, Benjumea was given a one-year driving prohibition after pleading guilty to refusing to provide a breath sample to Edmonton police.
The Crown said Benjumea’s Ontario driver’s abstract shows he had been suspended or convicted several times in 2018 and 2019 including once for racing or stunting.
“He made the choice to drive with disregard for rules of the road,” Andress said. “He drove in a patently dangerous manner which put the lives of everyone around him at risk and unfortunately, but predictably, killed all of his passengers when he caused a catastrophic collision.”
She described Benjumea’s decision to leave the crash scene as “morally reprehensible.”
‘A completely avoidable tragedy’
During the sentencing hearing 51 victim impact statements will be read out. On Monday, Georgia Donovan’s mother shared her heartbreak with the court.
“The horrific details that have been shared through this criminal investigation and in the recent agreed statement of facts continue to haunt us,” Lynn Cuvelier said through tears. “Knowing that this is a completely avoidable tragedy prevents us from finding any peace.”
Benjumea listened to her through closed circuit television from the Edmonton Remand Centre, his reaction hidden by his mask.
On Wednesday, Benjumea’s lawyer is expected to make his sentencing submissions. Dino Bottos has indicated he plans to ask for a sentence between five and seven years, less time served.
The judge plans to hand down his sentence in mid-January.
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