Family and friends of the victims and the accused were reaching for facial tissue, dabbing away tears and holding onto each other for support after Travis Fox rose in the prisoner’s docket in Vernon Provincial Court Friday, and apologized.
Fox, 22, from Enderby, entered six guilty pleas in connection with the Highway 6 motor vehicle accident at 1:30 a.m. on March 6, 2016, that killed his childhood friend, Carlee DeBoer, 20, and DeBoer’s college friend Paige Whitelaw, 20, of Ladysmith.
Fox, who had aspirations of being a police officer prior to the accident, pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving causing death, two counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.
Six other counts against Fox were stayed by Crown counsel.
“I’m here today to take responsibility for my actions,” said Fox, wearing a black suit, white shirt and tie, his voice cracking with emotion and fighting back tears, when given an opportunity to address the court by Judge Mayland McKimm at his sentence hearing.
“I know there is nothing I can say or do that will fix what has happened. I’m very sorry to the families of Carlee and Paige. I wish I could bring them back or trade places with them.
“I wish this day would have come sooner to give Carlee and Paige’s families closure. Sorry.”
DeBoer and Whitelaw’s mothers were in the courtroom as were Fox’s parents, along with siblings and supporters of the victims and accused.
Fox, the two women and two other passengers, had been in a white pickup travelling eastbound on the highway, with Fox behind the wheel, when Fox failed to negotiate a curve. The truck went off the highway and flipped in the ditch near Waddington Drive.
DeBoer and Whitelaw died at the scene. They had been riding in the rear of the cab, one behind the driver, the other behind the front-seat passenger. The surviving passengers, along with Fox, suffered injuries.
The five friends had been at a Vernon nightclub, consuming alcohol. Fox took the keys to a friend’s pickup and was heading to his mom’s house, about 10 minutes away.
He was travelling at a speed between 141 and 152 km/hour, more than double the posted 60 km/h speed limit, and his blood-alcohol reading taken an hour after the crash at Vernon Jubilee Hospital was .151.
Friday afternoon, McKimm sentenced Fox to three years in a federal penitentiary for each of the impaired driving causing death charges; 18 months each for the dangerous driving causing death charges, and 12 months for the impaired driving causing bodily harm counts. All charges are to be served concurrent, meaning Fox will spend three years in jail.
He was also given a 12-month driving prohibition upon completion of his sentence.
Crown counsel had been seeking a prison term of four-to-six years and a three-to-five year driving prohibition. The defence was seeking incarceration from two-to-four years and a one-to-three year driving prohibition.
“This offence cries out for a sentence that makes a strong statement of general deterrence,” said McKimm, agreeing with defence’s submission, taking into account that Fox pleaded guilty at the earliest possible time, had no prior criminal record, and had only one prior driving infraction, a speeding ticket. Fox received glowing letters of support from his family, friends and employer, Canoe Forest Products near Salmon Arm.
But McKimm also noted Fox’s blood-alcohol level and was travelling at more than twice the posted legal speed limit.
“In my view, the fact that there were two victims, the fact the accused was speeding excessively, almost twice the legal limit, suggests this offence should attract a sentence to the middle-to-upper end of that range,” said McKimm, who accepted Fox’s deep remorse, noting he has undergone counselling since the accident and has abstained from drinking.
McKimm told the courtroom that the mothers of the two victims filed powerful impact statements and despite their losses, neither family was seeking vengeance against Fox, saying the tragedy will forever scar the accused.
“Travis will have an uphill battle his whole life,” read McKimm from the statement of DeBoer’s mother at sentencing. “Whatever happens to Travis will not bring Carlee back and I think Carlee would not like to see his life totally ruined by spending a number of years in jail.
“But, I do believe there have to be consequences for his actions. For Carlee, he must and maybe that will help him accept what he has done. Going to jail may help his healing.”
Mrs. DeBoer could be seen hugging members of Fox’s family outside the courtroom after the sentence was pronounced.