08/05/2011 10:29 EDT | Updated 10/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Judge mulls jail time for son of ex-Nfld premier in drunk-driving death

OTTAWA - Jack Tobin, his voice cracking, issued an emotional admission of guilt, shame and remorse in an Ottawa courtroom Friday for his role in the death of a close friend last Christmas Eve.

The son of former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin pleaded guilty in May to impaired driving causing death. Alex Zolpis was pinned under a pickup truck during drunken hijinks in a downtown parking lot.

"I truly wish I had been the only victim of my actions that night and not Alex," the 24-year-old Tobin told his sentencing hearing.

He addressed Zolpis's tear-streaked parents, sister and girlfriend by name, saying "how truly sorry and utterly ashamed I am for the unforgivable mistakes I made."

He ended his short statement with a sad caution: "If there's any good to come from this very, very dark cloud, I hope that it will be this message to others: the consequences of drinking and driving are deadly, they are real, they are enduring — a nightmare from which you never wake up."

But a "wake-up call" is exactly what prosecutor Mark Moors said is needed in this case, citing evidence of previous reckless acts behind the wheel and excessive alcohol consumption by Tobin.

Written testimony included an earlier account of Tobin doing doughnuts in a Newfoundland parking lot with a friend clinging to the outside of the SUV and being tossed to the ground, unharmed. He also registered a blood alcohol level exactly on the permissible .08 level after being pulled over by police for spinning his car tires in the early morning hours of August 2009 in a village south of Ottawa.

Moors said given Tobin's history, the tragedy of Christmas Eve "in some respects ... did not come as a complete surprise."

"This is the type of behaviour that has to be denounced," the Crown attorney said.

Tobin's lawyer, Norm Boxall, argued that his client's immediate acceptance of responsibility, his remorse, the lifelong shame of killing a close friend and the relentless glare of the media spotlight brought on by his famous family name are all factors that Judge Lise Maisonneuve should consider in sentencing.

"I recognize Mr. Tobin's previous driving record. It is a fact you can consider," he told the judge.

"It is important to have a message to the community, but that message can be delivered in different ways ... not by a mathematical number (of years behind bars)."

How best to deliver a public warning about the horrific drunk-driving tragedy is at the heart of the judge's sentencing decision.

The defence has suggested a sentence of between 18 and 30 months, while prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison sentence and a 10-year driving ban.

Tobin's lawyer argued that the heightened publicity of Brain Tobin's name has made the case both a learning example for the public and has added to the lifelong stigma the younger Tobin will face.

But the prosecution countered by raising the case of Rob Ramage, the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain convicted in the 2003 drunk-driving death of his friend and former NHLer Keith Magnuson.

Despite widespread testimony of Ramage's exemplary character and the forgiveness of the Magnuson family who asked that he not do jail time, Ramage's four-year prison sentence was upheld by an appeal court last year.

"Mr. Tobin has never asked for special consideration and in my opinion that applies to sentencing as well," Moors told court.

"It is the same law that applies to everyone ... What he did is what he did."