ALBERTA

Richard Edward Benson Sentencing: Driver Who Crashed Into School, Killing Girl To Hear Fate

11/14/2013 04:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
ST. PAUL, Alta. - Sherry Wolitski imagines her 11-year-old daughter sitting in the back of her Grade 6 class and wonders about the final moment of her life.

She pictures a minivan crashing through a large window and brick wall of a rural Alberta school before it dives into the lower-level classroom. The vehicle flips 11-year-old Megan over in her desk and pins her underneath.

Wolitski says Megan's mangled desk had to be cut apart before the girl could be freed and rushed to an Edmonton hospital. She died there the next day.

"Did she see the van? Did she feel pain?" Wolitski asked in court Thursday. She said she's haunted by the questions and the repeating scene in her mind.

"My heart aches every day for my daughter."

Another student, Maddie Guitard, survived a major brain injury sustained in the crash in St. Paul in October 2012. But she remains in a vegetative state and is unlikely to recover. A third girl, Angelina Luce, has had to learn to walk and feed herself again. She recently went back to school full-time.

Their parents stood up in court and asked: How could this happen? Their children were just sitting in school. They were supposed to be safe.

What they heard was that the van's driver, Richard Benson, had a seizure while he was behind the wheel.

He had just dropped two of his children off at different schools in St. Paul and blacked out as he was driving home down a back alley. His van bolted at about 80 km/h down more back lanes and crossed five streets before slamming into Racette Junior High School.

Benson pleaded guilty earlier this year to criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

Benson admitted in a court document that he had been having seizures for about a decade, but rarely took his prescribed medication to prevent the attacks. He also lied on driver's licence applications when he said he had no medical condition that would affect his ability to control a vehicle.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paul Belzil said it's obvious Benson falsified the applications because he knew he shouldn't have been driving.

The judge said Benson deserved two years behind bars but, giving him credit for the past year he spent in custody, ordered a final sentence of 11 1/2 months.

Belzil also banned the 47-year-old from driving for life.

"It is obvious you can't be trusted to operate a motor vehicle ever again."

When given the opportunity to speak, Benson talked at length about his own five kids and how he was lucky they were all still alive.

"I never, ever meant to go out and hurt any children," said Benson, at times his words sluggish and mumbled.

"I'm truly sorry. Please forgive me."

A severe beating in 2002 put Benson in a coma and left him with a metal plate in his head. He has been prone to seizures ever since.

The parents of the three girls told court they have no sympathy for Benson. One called him a monster.

Defence lawyer Jason Conlin said most people in the small town east of Edmonton are understandably distraught by what happened. He said his client is likely to have a difficult time returning to the community when he is released from jail.

The lawyer said some of Benson's children were harassed by students in different schools in St. Paul following the crash. They now attend school elsewhere.

About a dozen of Benson's friends and family members were also in court but refused to comment. Some wiped away tears as the families of the three girls read their victim impact statements.

Kasia Guitard talked about how the daughter she once had is probably lost forever. Maddie is completely immobile and needs help with everything — eating, dressing, brushing her teeth. The girl can't speak or smile and doesn't recognize anyone.

Guitard said there are days she hopes the doctors are wrong and her daughter will squeeze her hand and be the same again. Until then, she and her husband are focused on just getting their girl home. They have bought a new house and are making it wheel-chair accessible so that someday soon she can be transferred from a care facility in St. Paul.

"All we want is for our family to be home again."

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