Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

Impaired driver sentenced to 8 years

Impaired driver sentenced to 8 years

This story was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette in the Saturday Feb. 18 edition. 

A St. Albert man who drove impaired and caused a crash that killed a father of two has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

Michael Beverly Gress, 37, was sentenced on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, impaired driving causing bodily harm and fleeing the scene of the accident after a fatal hit-and-run incident causing the death of Russell Guy House.

“I believe this is one of the saddest cases I’ve dealt with,” Justice Laura Stevens said in Edmonton Provincial Court.

On Tuesday Stevens handed down one six-year sentence for the manslaughter death of House and three six-year sentences for impaired driving causing bodily harm to three other people. Those sentences are to be served concurrently. Another two-year sentence was added for fleeing the scene of the accident.

Gress will get credit for 287 days already served, which leaves him with 2,490 days, or 6.8 years, left on his sentence. Once released Gress, who had two previous impaired driving convictions and six previous speeding convictions, will face a 10-year Canada-wide driving ban.

The Crown told the court on Tuesday that Gress had been driving at a “grossly excessive speed” of 147 km/hr in a 60 km/hr speed zone during the March 2016 incident.

“You turned that car into a lethal, unguided missile,” Stevens said.

Gress rear-ended a Chevrolet Cavalier going over double the speed limit on 167 Avenue and 59A Street at around 1:30 a.m. The vehicle was carrying House and his brother-in-law Evan Cardinal.

The Cavalier flew into the oncoming lane and struck a Mitsubishi Lancer carrying two Grade 12 students, Kyle Yuhar and Tayler Uganecz

House was ejected from the car and died, while the Cardinal was taken to the hospital with collapsed lung and multiple fractures. He spent months in the hospital recovering.

The two grade 12 students were taken to hospital and one suffered a broken collarbone while the other had a spinal injury.

Once striking the Cavalier, Gress continued driving until he hit a tree and then a fence and fled on foot from the scene. He hailed a cab and travelled back to his home in St. Albert.

The court heard from the agreed statement of facts that earlier in the night Gress started drinking at an Edmonton bar at 4:30 p.m. and was cut off after midnight. Gress consumed $90 dollars worth of alcohol before the manager of the bar called a cab to take Gress home. Once outside Gress sent the cab away and went to his vehicle to drive home.

Two bar patrons saw Gress getting in his vehicle and attempted to stop him from driving. The two citizens called 911 to report his impaired driving.

Stevens said Gress was “told in no uncertain terms that he could not drive.”

Gress arrived at the second bar and spent $20 on alcohol before being cut off again. He was asked to leave the establishment after midnight and tripped over a chair while he stumbled out of the pub.

He was reported to 911 again after he was seen driving away from the bar.

Gress was reported to the police for a third time that night by a woman who saw him driving over 100 km/hr in the city before the fatal collision.

When Stevens began detailing the events of the crash, House’s mother broke down sobbing and the court had break before continuing the sentencing.

Police had to use DNA from the airbag of the car to track down Gress.

This is not the first time the Gress family has been impacted by impaired family. Gress lost an uncle as a result of an impaired driver and his aunt had to raise her four children as a single parent.

Stevens said it hard to understand how someone who had first had experience from the impact of impaired driving would commit “an entirely avoidable crime.”

In 1999 Gress was fined for drinking and driving and in 2003 he was driving over the legal limit. In 2005 Gress was caught driving with a disqualified license and spent 30 days in jail.

House’s family was unhappy with the sentence and his uncle Calvin Bird called the sentence a joke. After hearing Gress would receive credit for time served, House’s family began shouting.

“Closure will never come,” Bird said. “There’s too many victims that suffer, not only from our community. It’s a major, major loss.”

House, the family breadwinner, left behind two sons, aged three and 11. Bird says the boys have not been told what happened to their father.

The crown was seeking a sentence of eight to 10 years while the defence asked for seven to eight years.

Kim Goddard, the assistant chief Crown prosecutor in the case, said that although the sentence was not what they were seeking it still sends a message that drunk driving will not be tolerated.

This was one of only two cases in Edmonton where drinking and driving deaths resulted in charges of manslaughter.

“We will be looking at those types of charges further down the line” Goddard said.

“Ultimately I think it’s a step in the right direction and we can of course build on this sentence and build on this case down the road for future sentences.”

House, who was the sole breadwinner of his family, leaves behind two young sons.

Houses family and friends plan to honour him by organizing a hockey tournament in his name.

Gress’s family stood by him during the trial and issued a statement after the sentencing.

“It’s a tragic event for all parties involved. Our heart goes out to the families. Michael is remorseful for the events that took place that night and we will support and stand by him, and will help him in his recovery.”

Gress, who worked primarily in the music industry, has an 11-year-old daughter.

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