Campbell River driver sentenced to 18 months jail in fatal crash that killed friend

18 months for fatal crash

A Campbell River man who killed his friend in a drunk-driving crash two years ago has been sentenced to 18 months in jail, followed by two years of probation.

Dustin Kowbel, 21, died on March 28, 2020 when a car driven by Griffin Lee Grant hit a tree at high speed.

Grant, who pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death last October, had a blood-alcohol level of 155 milligrams — almost twice the legal limit.

“Driving while impaired is a reprehensible criminal act and has caused countless fatalities across Canada,” provincial court Judge Karen Whonnock wrote in her reasons for sentence released Tuesday.

Whonnock said the gravity of the offence warrants “a serious period of incarceration,” although she noted that Grant, who is of Indigenous ancestry, has been affected by the intergenerational effects of residential schools, alcohol abuse and the divorce of his parents.

She recommended Corrections consider giving Grant access to a healing lodge or Indigenous programming and substance-abuse treatment and counselling at Guthrie House, a 55-bed facility that combines work, treatment and counselling for people with addictions at Nanaimo Correctional Centre.

During his probation, Grant, now 24, must attend counselling and complete an Indigenous restorative justice and rehabilitation plan. He is prohibited from driving for two years after his release from custody.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Grant was captured on closed-circuit television at the liquor store in Campbell River buying two six packs at 10 p.m. on March 27, 2020. He drank with friends, then at 3:36 a.m. went to Kowbel’s home.

The two men left the home at 3:45 a.m. Kowbel got into the passenger seat and Grant drove onto the Island Highway. A number of business cameras captured the car travelling at an estimated speed of 120 km/h.

Police had been called to the area to investigate a break and enter, and an officer was making a left hand turn when Grant’s car approached the police cruiser at a high speed.

Grant swerved, missed the police car and sped by. The car hit a raised median, crossed the road and hit a tree, which ripped off the passenger side of the car.

Kowbel was thrown from the car and later died.

During the sentencing hearing, Kowbel’s partner Marley Watson-Blake and parents Kevin and Lorraine Kowbel delivered victim impact statements that described their deep anguish at the loss of Kowbel, whom they described as a funny, charming young man who was always smiling.

Defence lawyer Mark Berry told the court that Grant had a troubled childhood and was bullied by other children because of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Tourette’s syndrome. He began drinking around 14 or 15 to fit in with ­others.

He completed Grade 12, specialized in various trades and hopes to work in the film industry. Since May 2021, he has been working for a construction company.

Grant was afraid to leave home after the crash, court heard. He was sent death threats and was attacked on social media.

Whonnock found Grant’s alcohol level, the high rate of speed and his driving record, which includes a 24-hour prohibition for driving under the influence of drugs in 2016, to be aggravating factors in the case, although they were mitigated by Grant’s guilty plea and remorse.

Grant has the support of his family, has attended counselling sessions and met several times with the native court worker. Also mitigating is his relatively young age, which bodes well for future rehabilitation, said the judge.

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