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Survivor wants jail for drunk driver

Josephine Tamondong just wanted to cross the border into the United States.

After 3 1/2 years working as a maid at the Coast Edmonton Plaza hotel, dutifully sending money home to family in the Philippines, she had earned her permanent resident status and needed to make it official by leaving the country and getting her papers stamped.

So she set off last March with four friends and co-workers on one of the busiest stretches of road in Alberta and headed toward Montana.

"They wanted to celebrate with me," recalled the tiny, soft-spoken woman, her dark eyes glossy with tears. "It was supposed to be a happy moment."

A driver heading the wrong way on a divided stretch of Highway 2 near Innisfail, north of Calgary, had already forced at least two dozen vehicles to swerve out of the way when he crashed head on into the rental SUV carrying Tamondong and her friends.

Tamondong, sitting in the back without a seatbelt, was flung into the front. She remembers being carried out of the wreckage and being told after surgery that her four friends were dead. Anthony Castillon, 35, Eden Biazon, 39, Joey Mangonon, 35, and Josefina Velarde, 52, were also temporary foreign workers from the Philippines.

After six weeks in hospital to mend her broken bones, and several more weeks in rehabilitation, Tamondong recently put her black uniform on again and returned to lighter duties in the hotel's laundry room. On Friday, the 29-year-old will be in a Red Deer courtroom to face the driver of the other vehicle for the first time.

"My friends deserve to have justice and they need justice," said Tamondong. "I hope they can get that."

Tyler James Stevens, 30, pleaded guilty in September to four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Several other charges, including impaired driving, were withdrawn.

An agreed statement of facts submitted to the court said Stevens refused a breathalyzer test after the crash. But a blood test revealed he had an alcohol level of more than three times the legal driving limit.

He has admitted to combining alcohol with prescribed medication the night of the crash and blacking out.

Stevens, a divorced father of two children, is part-owner of an international oilfield service company and travelled back and forth between Alberta and Australia. On March 4, he was at a family birthday party where he drank three doubles of Scotch whisky, then had about five more drinks at two different bars.

The last thing he remembers is leaving The Zoo bar in Innisfail, said the court document.

The Canadian Press


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