EDMONTON — Richard Suter was parking his SUV in front of a restaurant two years ago when his wife told him she wanted a divorce.
The 65-year-old testified Wednesday that he was surprised by the news and focused on his wife instead of his vehicle. When she screamed that their SUV was rolling forward, into the patio at Ric's Grill in Edmonton, he panicked.
He hit the gas instead of the brake.
The SUV jumped over a curb and crashed through a glass partition and onto the patio. Two-year-old Geo Mounsef was pinned against a wall. His parents were also injured, but his five-month-old brother who was strapped in a car seat was unharmed.
Suter told court that he mourns the loss of the little boy and asked the child's family to forgive him for losing control of his car.
"I have done a great harm to your family and I will always be terribly sorry for what I did.''
The retired businessman said he was not drunk behind the wheel.
"I made a terrible driving error that had a tragic outcome.''
Police originally charged Suter with impaired driving causing death, as witnesses said he smelled of alcohol and was stumbling and slurring his words after the crash on May 19, 2013. But court also heard other witnesses who believed he was sober.
Suter pleaded guilty to refusing to provide a breath sample when there is a death, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
A week-long sentencing hearing has heard evidence about his drinking that day. He admitted to having two cocktails and a pint of beer over 4 1/2 hours before the crash.
Suter also said he has had mobility problems since his car was hit by a drunk driver nearly 40 years ago. His left leg is shorter than his right. He also has arthritis and eye problems.
Suter told court that he was in shock after his vehicle plowed into the patio and, after bystanders yelled at him and banged on his hood, he slowly reversed.
He next opened his door to offer help, but was dragged outside, slapped, kicked and hit in the back of the head, he said. Because he knew he'd done something awful, he took his lumps.
When police arrived, Suter was lying in the parking lot in a fetal position. His legs were wobbly, he said, and he asked officers to help him stand. They looked at him like he was a "monster.''
Later at the police station, he felt sick and cried and prayed for the little boy, Suter said. He refused to give a breath sample on the advice of a lawyer, he added.
Life since the crash has been difficult, Suter said. There has been public scrutiny and a social media campaign against him.
In January, he said, he was kidnapped from his home by three men posing as police officers. He said they put a hood over his head, drove him to the city outskirts, beat him and cut off his thumb. Police have charged a man in the case, but he has yet to go to trial.
Suter testified that during the ordeal, one of the men asked him if he had done anything to deserve such punishment. Suter replied that he had been in an accident that killed a little boy. The man said that was why he had been taken, he said.
Suter said he and his wife live in fear and his own children won't attend his court case because they don't want to be identified.
His wife, who has supported him throughout the case, is expected to testify later this week.
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