Just moments before Louis Morgan lost control of his Mustang as it weaved through highway traffic in Abbotsford in pursuit of another vehicle, a frightened motorist pulled off the road and told a 911 operator that he was worried someone on the road would die that evening.
A minute or two later, Morgan’s car swerved in front of another vehicle, fishtailed wildly, then catapulted off the road, flipping end-over-end before coming to a rest upside down in the median between the Clearbrook and Mt. Lehman Road exits.
Morgan survived and sustained serious injuries in the 2016 crash. But his wife, 34-year-old Shantelle Morgan, died from her injuries shortly after being rushed to hospital.
Morgan, now 50, has pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death. On Monday in Chilliwack, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Giaschi heard submissions about how long he should spend in prison.
Crown counsel Carolyn Lawlor called for a sentence of two years less a day, noting that the five minutes of terror Morgan inflicted on other motorists that April evening didn’t reflect a “momentary lapse.”
“It’s so extreme,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine anything more dangerous.”
One witness described two cars speeding through traffic, “driving like their own Indy 500 on the highway.”
Lawlor also asked for a significant probation term, along with a long driving ban.
Morgan has a record of bad driving behaviour, having previously received seven 24-hour driving prohibitions and having been convicted for impaired driving in 2001 and 2006.
Lawlor said she would have sought a harsher jail term at the upper end of the sentencing spectrum had it not been for Morgan’s upbringing and sentencing guidelines that require the court to take into account the legacy of the residential school system on Indigenous offenders.
But Morgan’s lawyer Jerry Steele said a sentence of just 90 days would be appropriate, and that his client should be able to serve it intermittently.
“In my submission, this is the culmination of a lifetime of unresolved trauma, unresolved issues,” he said.
Steele argued that deterrence of such driving could still be served by such a sentence.
The request drew a shocked response from family members of Shantelle Morgan. One stormed out after stating the request to be a “joke.”
In his submission, Steele cited sentences handed down to drivers who had disregarded and run red lights and stop signs, including one involving an inexperienced driver.
The judge, though, suggested that the circumstances at hand weren’t comparable.
“It seems to me a new driver running a red light is remarkably different,” Giaschi suggested.
Giaschi had just heard that, on the evening of April 9, 2016, Louis Morgan was driving at a speed of between 120 and 140 km/h, weaving in and out of traffic and tailgating those moving slower. Although he drove through Abbotsford just after 9 p.m., witnesses said the highway was extremely busy on the night in question.
After a white BMW passed Morgan in the area, witnesses reported his Mustang then appeared to be bent on overtaking the car. One witness reported seeing the vehicles “rat-racing” and switching lanes four to five times, Lawlor said.
After the crash, those arriving at the spot where the Mustang had left the road could smell burning rubber.
Lawlor also told the court that, after the crash, Louis Morgan said his wife had told him to slow down, but that he had “lost it” when the BMW had passed him.
Some of those at the crash scene reported smelling alcohol on Louis Morgan’s breath. Steele conceded that his client had consumed some alcohol, but said it was unclear how much he had drank and how much of a contributing factor it had been in the crash.
Although Morgan was originally charged with impaired driving causing death, that was stayed after a preliminary inquiry revealed there wasn’t enough evidence to justify prosecuting for that crime.
Morgan, who cried throughout much of Monday’s hearing, read from a letter, apologizing for his actions.
“I live in the house we built together and see her in every room,” he said. “If I could change places with Shantelle I would.”
A sentencing decision is expected in three to four weeks.
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