EDMONTON - A man who mistakenly pushed the gas pedal on his SUV, plowing onto a restaurant patio and killing a toddler, is now facing the prospect of prison in addition to constant fears of vengeance, says his lawyer.
Dino Bottos says people in the community have wrongly believed for the last two years that his client, Richard Suter, was drunk when the crash happened two years ago.
On Friday, the 64-year-old retired businessman pleaded guilty to refusing to provide police with a breath sample when there is a death, a relatively new charge in the Criminal Code that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
He was originally scheduled to go to trial on more serious charges, including impaired driving causing death, but those are expected to be withdrawn at his sentencing hearing in October.
"Everyone thought he was drunk and he wasn't drunk," Bottos told reporters outside an Edmonton court. "Through misinformation and exaggeration, this city has been poisoned against Mr. Suter and he has suffered a great deal of harm."
In addition to a social media crusade against him, Suter was kidnapped from his home in January by three men posing as police officers, Bottos said. They put a hood over his head, drove him to the city outskirts, beat him and cut off his thumb. Police recently charged a man in the case.
"That's the physical result of this campaign," Bottos said.
"Far beyond that is the emotional toll it's taken on Mr. Suter, his wife and family. They live in perpetual fear now.
"They will be fearful for years to come."
Court heard Suter was pulling into a parking stall at Ric's Grill in southwest Edmonton in May 2013, when the vehicle continued to accelerate, crashed through a plate-glass patio partition and struck a table.
Two-year-old Geo Mounsef had been having supper with his family, celebrating that he had finally overcome his fear of the potty.
Witnesses at the time said the SUV pinned the boy against a concrete wall. He died in hospital.
His parents were also injured, but his five-month-old brother who was strapped in a car seat was unharmed.
George Mounsef and Sage Morin were in court for the guilty plea. They told reporters they're glad Suter has accepted some responsibility, but they still believe he was drunk the night he killed their son.
"He didn't even have the common sense to reverse his SUV off of Geo, even after several people, including myself, were screaming at him to do so," said Mounsef. "The customers of the restaurant had to lift the vehicle off my son."
Bottos said evidence at the sentencing hearing will show Suter had a few drinks during the day and one drink about an hour before the crash.
Bottos described Suter as a good man, who is terribly sorry for what happened.
"We can only hope now, through the sentencing hearing in the fall, that some people out there — still with an open mind and with a sense of fair play — will come to realize that Mr. Suter made a terrible mistake. But that mistake was made based on human frailty, human error.
"It was not a drunken mistake."