A man who fell asleep at the wheel and killed another driver in Abbotsford in 2012 has been sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Judge Kristen Mundstock said Monday in Abbotsford provincial court that Michael Larocque created a “devastating risk” to the public when he chose to drive and neglected to pull over when he started to nod off on Oct. 15, 2012.
Larocque, 49, crossed the centre line while driving in a cargo van on the Sumas Way/Highway bypass and crashed head-on into a 2012 Fiat being driven by Eileen Kleinfelder, 67, of Chilliwack.
Kleinfelder was pronounced dead at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
Mundstock said that several months before the collision, Larocque sought medical advice for a “sleeping dysfunction” and was diagnosed with sleep apnea.
He told doctors that he would fall asleep “everywhere,” including in moving vehicles, Mundstock said.
She said this led to Larocque, a floor installer, to make arrangements for his work partner to drive. He also started using a CPAP machine – which helps people with sleep apnea breathe properly and get more-restful sleep – about a week before the crash, Mundstock said.
But on the day of the crash, his partner didn’t show up and Larocque opted to drive himself to work.
Mundstock said Larocque started to nod off at the wheel and told himself he would pull over at the next “convenient spot,” but this never occurred.
“Mr. Larocque created a terrible risk making a decision to drive on Oct. 15, 2012. He gave his personal interests priority over the safety of the general public,” Mundstock.
She said it is concerning that after the crash, Larocque continued to drive and rack up further criminal charges.
In May 2017, he was charged with driving while prohibited after a police officer in Saanich on Vancouver Island pulled him over when he was driving erratically and crossing the centre line, Mundstock said.
The following month, also in Saanich, he was stopped at a police roadblock, and told the officer that his wallet was in the back of his vehicle.
He was instructed to pull over, but instead Larocque fled from the scene, leading to a three-kilometre pursuit by police. He then fled on foot after pulling into a driveway, but was soon arrested.
Mundstock said Larocque has a total of 59 entries on his driving record, as well as criminal convictions that include robbery, assault, uttering threats and breaching his court-ordered conditions.
She said these were among the aggravating factors that led her to sentence Larocque to 17 months for the charge of dangerous driving causing death in the fatal collision, 10 days for the May 2017 charge and 20 days for the June 2017 incident.
Prior to sentencing, Mundstock declined to approve Larocque’s application to withdraw his guilty plea.
Larocque was initially charged with criminal negligence causing death, but pleaded guilty in March 2018 to the lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death.
A sentencing hearing took place, and the judge was set to give her ruling on the sentence on Aug. 20, 2018, when Larocque indicated that he wanted to revoke his guilty plea.
A hearing on the matter was held May 22 of this year, at which time Larocque said he no longer believed that he had committed a criminal act because he had not set out to intentionally hurt anyone on the day of the fatal crash.
Mundstock said the guilty plea would stand because, at the time he made it, it was “voluntary, informed and unequivocal.” He also did not take issue with the advice from the lawyer who was defending him at the time.
Mundstock said that Larcoque also did not prove there would be a miscarriage of justice against him if the guilty plea were to stand. She said he was well aware of his medical condition, and chose to drive anyway.
“The fact that Mr. Larocque regrets his decision – a decision that was made for valid reasons at the time – is not a sufficient reason for this court to permit the withdrawal of the guilty plea,” she said.