Judge throws out plea deal

A Penticton judge Monday took the rare step of throwing out plea deal between the Crown and defence while sentencing a woman for a pair of “over the top” police chases. 

Bree-anne Alicia Buhler, 25, was sentenced to a total of 845 days in prison for a total of four separate incidents spanning the Okanagan Valley.

“Dangerous driving and flight from police are becoming all too common on the Penticton docket,” said Judge Gregory Koturbash. “Simply based on the number being charged, the crime has taken on an increased prevalence, it is a prevalence that cannot be tolerated.”

Buhler led Penticton RCMP officers on a police chase through West Bench and the PIB reserve on Nov. 6, 2018 in a stolen F150 pickup. The pursuit saw her swerve around three spike belts, before hitting a fourth with a single tire. 

She continued to flee down Green Mountain Road at close to 100 kilometres an hour during which time the truck was swerving into the oncoming lane, forcing other motorists to pull off the road. The chase eventually ended about three kilometres east of Shingle Creek Road after the damaged tire completely disintegrated.

Buhler was arrested as the lone occupant of the vehicle and 3.8 grams of heroin and a scale were found in the truck. When she was being booked into cells shortly afterwards, she began vomiting profusely. At the hospital, healthcare workers found multiple packages of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine stashed in her vagina.

The Crown and defence presented a joint submission of 210 days in custody for the incident, something Koturbash could not stomach. He instead ordered a 1.5-year sentence.

He said the consequences of running from the police must outweigh the benefits, given how dangerous chases are to officers and bystanders. 

“It is even more dangerous when the person they pursue is as high as a kite as Ms. Buhler," he said. “Severe sanctions for fleeing police and engaging in this type of high risk behaviour must be imposed to resonate with those that are faced with the decision of fleeing or pulling over for police."

Judges are bound to respect joint submissions, unless they believe the proposed sentence brings the “administration of justice into disrepute” and would lead a typical person to believe there is a “breakdown in the proper function of the justice system.”

Koturbash noted that when the 210-day deal was originally presented to Buhler, she had not yet been charged for another police chase that occurred in the bush outside Vernon.

Buhler was spotted behind the wheel of a stolen pickup on a forest service road on Sept. 26, 2018 and ignored demands to stop. With her boyfriend in the bed of the truck, she drove over a spike belt and fled police on rims until they disintegrated about eight kilometres away.

With guns drawn, officers required the help of a police dog to remove her from the truck. Both Buhler and her boyfriend had apparently ingested drugs, started to overdose and were hospitalized.

For unknown reasons, Buhler wasn’t formally charged for that police chase until Dec. 2018, something that Koturbash said “boggles the mind.”

Buhler was sentenced to 210 days for the Vernon file, with the judge noting he had to consider the totality of the overall sentence before pushing much further past the joint submission.

Court heard Buhler had a traumatic upbringing that saw her start using hard drugs at the age of 11 and homeless by 14. She’s overdosed numerous times and admits her drug addiction is so expensive only crime can sustain it. She has been on probation her entire adult life and the only clean time she has seen has been in prison.

“Ms. Buhler I am sympathetic to your situation,” Koturbash said. “If you decide to carry on with that activity, it does not give you the right to take anyone with you.”

Buhler also pleaded guilty to using a stolen credit card in Lumby on July 23, 2018 and being in possession of a stolen vehicle in Coldstream on July 28, 2018 and was sentenced to 30 days and 60 days respectively. 

With credit for time already served, she has 426 days left on her jail sentence. Upon release, she will be subject to two years of probation and a five-year driving ban.

More Penticton News