NEWS
03/29/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 05/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Promising WHL player gets probation for crash that killed his girlfriend

COCHRANE, Alta. - A promising junior hockey player has received probation and community service for a high-speed fatal crash that killed his girlfriend a year ago.

The WHL player, who can't be identified because he was a youth at the time, was driving 100 kilometres an hour over the posted speed limit when he crashed his car on a rural road west of Calgary on April 29, 2011.

"You will carry with you your actions the rest of your life. Good luck," said Alberta Justice Gerry Meagher during sentencing Thursday.

He sentenced the player, who is now 18, to two years of probation and the maximum 240 hours of community service. He is also prohibited from driving for five years.

The young man is still playing in the WHL. His girlfriend was 18 when she died.

"She suffered the ultimate loss. There were 14 victim impact statements read into the court. The grief and heartbreak of her loss was palpable in the courtroom," Meagher said.

Although the accused admitted that he and his girlfriend had been drinking the evening the crash occurred, Meagher said the Crown did not prove that it was a determining factor in the accident.

"The accident was the result of excessive speed alone."

The couple had been returning from a night out when the accused lost control of the car after it hit a dip in the road and flipped through the air. He was thrown out and broke a leg. His girlfriend, who had been wearing her seatbelt, was trapped in the car. He walked to the nearest home a half-hour away to call for help.

Crown prosecutor Mac Vomberg had been seeking a custody and supervision order of between 18 and 21 months. The defence was looking for probation.

Meagher said the main aggravating factor was the girl's death and the high speed the car was travelling when it crashed. But he also said the list of mitigating factors was lengthy and included the player's expression of "sincere and genuine" remorse, his prompt guilty plea which spared witnesses and family from having to sit through a trial and his good behaviour since his arrest last year.

"He was of previous good character, well disciplined and hard working," said Meagher in rejecting calls for a custodial sentence.

"This has nothing to do with privilege or special circumstances."

The young man, accompanied by his parents, did not speak or react when the verdict was read. Meagher said he also considered how a criminal record would affect the player's ability to play hockey outside the country.

The victim's mother, who cannot be identified, expressed her disappointment in a brief comment to reporters.

"There are no winners in something like this. Everybody's hurting. Everybody's lives have been changed forever," she said softly.

"We feel that the communities have learned yet again that you can drink and drive and just get a slap on the wrist."