Edmonton man gets 4 months for failing to provide breath sample in child’s death

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Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press


EDMONTON - A man who crashed his SUV into an Edmonton restaurant patio, killing a young boy, has been sentenced to four months in jail.

Richard Suter, a 65-year-old retired businessman, had pleaded guilty to failing to provide a breath sample in a death — a relatively new criminal offence that carries a maximum life sentence.

Provincial court Judge Larry Anderson ruled Thursday that witnesses wrongly assumed Suter was drunk after his vehicle plowed into the patio in May 2013.

“As tragic as the consequences have been, this collision was an accident caused by a non-impaired driving error,” Anderson said.

He said Suter had also been given “ill-informed and bad legal advice” not to give a breath sample that night.

The judge further took into account that Suter and his family have been subject to “extreme vitriol, public scorn and threats … as well as violent vigilante actions” since the crash.

Suter was abducted from his home by three masked men and had a thumb cut off. His wife was also attacked in a shopping mall parking lot.

Court heard that two-year-old Geo Mounsef had been having dinner with his parents and baby brother at Ric’s Grill in southwest Edmonton to celebrate his successful potty training. The SUV pinned him against a wall and he died a short time later.

Police originally charged Suter with impaired driving causing death, as witnesses said he smelled of alcohol, was stumbling and slurring his words. But court also heard from other witnesses who believed he was sober.

Suter testified at sentencing that he had three drinks over four hours before the crash, but wasn’t drunk.

He said he had been arguing with his wife while parking the SUV. When she asked for a divorce, he mistakenly hit the gas instead of the brake.

Court heard Suter struggled to reverse the vehicle off the boy and bystanders yelled at him and banged on the hood.

He was then dragged out of the vehicle, slapped, kicked and hit in the head.

When police arrived, he was lying in a fetal position on the ground and appeared dishevelled. He was alert and responsive, but also smelled of alcohol, his eyes were glossy and he had trouble talking. An expert testified that some of those symptoms could have been the result of trauma and shock.

Supporters of the boy’s family packed the courtroom for the decision, and some shouted at Suter as sheriffs led him away.

“It’s beyond insulting,” Geo’s father, George Mounsef, later said outside court. “Four months is a joke.”

The Crown had recommended a three-year prison term. The defence suggested a fine.

Anderson ruled that the gravity of the crime called for some time behind bars. He said he will recommend that corrections workers not place Suter in the general population or with a cell mate.

Lawyer Dino Bottos said the decision finally vindicates his client, but it won’t be easy for Suter to move on after he is released.

“He will be looking over his shoulder and so will his family. But hopefully the threat on his life and his health … will dissipate now, when people with an open mind finally realize, finally at long last, that he was not impaired that day.”

Suter is also suspended from driving for 30 months upon his release.

© The Canadian Press, 2015

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