A 27-year-old Edmonton man was sentenced Friday to nine years in prison for causing the death of three people who were passengers in his car when it careened into a Starbucks restaurant, then walking away.
Oscar Benjumea had pleaded guilty to three counts of dangerous driving causing death and leaving the scene of the fatal crash.
The Crown had recommended a 13-year sentence, while Benjumea’s lawyers had asked for five to seven years.
In July 2020, Benjumea spent an evening at a Whyte Avenue bar with his friend Faisal Yousef. The men shared a table with Georgia Donovan and Emma McArthur.
At closing time, the four got into Benjumea’s 2018 Audi RS5. Less than 10 minutes later, the three passengers were dead or dying.
Benjumea had lost control of the car while driving at 186 km/h in a 60 km/h zone, slamming into a Starbucks.
In Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench Friday morning, Justice Peter Michalyshyn called Benjumea’s driving “excessively dangerous,” noting he was serving a one-year court-ordered driving prohibition at the time of the crash.
The judge rejected Benjumea’s claim he was unable to remember anything after the passengers got into his car.
“Before the collision, whether he remembers or is willing to admit that he remembers it all or not, Mr. Benjumea was aware of his driving and its extreme dangerousness and the risks it created to both himself, his passengers and other members of society,” Michalyshyn said.
Michalyshyn called walking away from the scene “morally reprehensible,” agreeing with the Crown that it “speaks to his guilty mind.”
“It showed callous disregard for his passengers,” he said, noting that Benjumea managed to avoid police at the scene by leaving.
Benjumea admitted he had consumed four shots and a double-ounce drink that evening before getting behind the wheel and the judge found there was no evidence before him that he had more than that to drink.
“It’s possible it disinhibited him or contributed to his dangerous driving, but there’s no direct evidence of that,” the judge said.
‘Nobody likes to go to jail’
Benjumea has been in custody since the day after the crash. He will get 2.6 years credit for time already served.
Outside court, defence lawyer Dino Bottos said his client will not appeal the sentence.
“Nobody likes to go to jail,” Bottos said. “Mr. Benjumea understood the judge’s decision. He accepts what the judge has said about his conduct.”
During sentencing, Michalyshyn noted Benjumea’s youth and prospects for rehabilitation.
“He has been a good candidate during his remand and I expect that as he continues to serve his sentence, he will continue to be a good candidate for rehabilitation,” the judge said.
Michalyshyn also considered Benjumea’s “genuine remorse” and his guilty pleas as mitigating factors in sentencing.
Bottos praised the judge for balancing denunciation and deterrence with prospects for rehabilitation.
“We understand that there was a lot of pressure on him, that there was a lot of anger towards Mr. Benjumea,” Bottos said.
“But the justice I suggest, did his best to withstand that pressure and that anger and tried to impose what he thought was a fit and proper sentence.”
Once Benjumea is released, he’ll face a 10-year driving prohibition which, Michalyshyn said, was necessary in the interests of justice and to protect the public.
Michalyshyn spoke directly to Benjumea before leaving the courtroom.
“Mr. Benjumea, you have a long road ahead of you,” he said. “I wish you well. I hope you find a path forward.”
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