The BC Court of Appeal and BC Supreme Court in Downtown Vancouver. (Shutterstock)

Drunk driver who killed pedestrian in Burnaby sentenced to 4 years

“The family grief could not be more vivid or heart-wrenching,” the judge said.

By Dustin Godfrey | March 22, 2022 |5:00 am

Roberto Francisco is an “outstanding man who did a terrible thing,” a BC Supreme Court justice said in a recent ruling on the 2019 drunk driving case that left 69-year-old Louise Landreth dead in Burnaby.

Francisco, 41, was sentenced in early February this year after he drove more than triple the speed limit with a seriously high blood-alcohol content level onto the Lougheed Highway sidewalk where Landreth was walking. A transcript of the decision was recently posted online, in what BC Supreme Court Justice Janet Winteringham said was not simply “but another example” of the fatal consequences of drunk driving.

“The family grief could not be more vivid or heart-wrenching,” Winteringham said in court.

She added that she tried to make the decision “about the individuals impacted, including Mr Francisco.”

“Mr Francisco is to be sentenced for a crime for which he has no memory. He killed Ms Landreth as she walked alone along a pedestrian way, enjoying a late spring evening, while her son put to sleep her latest grandchild. She was a woman really in her prime. The responsibility of child rearing and professional employment almost behind her, and as she was just starting her third act, the act that promises freedom and rewards for a life well lived, for Ms Landreth, it was to end,” Winteringham said.

“Mr Francisco did not start his day intending to hurt anyone that evening or ever, but his combination of excessive drinking and dangerous driving proved lethal.”

‘Injury, heartbreak, and destruction’

The justice resurfaced a quote from Justice Peter deCarteret Cory in a 28-year-old Supreme Court of Canada decision, saying the words “are as apt today as they were in 1994, tragically.”

“Every year, drunk driving leaves a terrible trail of death, injury, heartbreak, and destruction. From the point of view of numbers alone, it has a far greater impact on Canadian society than any other crime,” Cory said at the time.

“In terms of the deaths and serious injuries resulting in hospitalization, drunk driving is clearly the crime which causes the most significant social loss to the country.”

In sentencing hearings, the Crown had sought a four- to five-year prison sentence and a 10-year driving prohibition afterwards, while the defence asked for a two-year prison sentence followed by a two-year driving prohibition.

Francisco’s submission was based on his guilty plea, his genuine remorse, and, in part, “on the fact that Mr. Francisco was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury.”

The four-year sentence imposed by Winteringham will be followed by a four-year driving prohibition.

The lead-up to the crash

Francisco hit and killed Landreth at 8:50pm on June 7, 2019, according to Winteringham’s ruling, but for over an hour beforehand he had already been exhibiting erratic driving behaviour.

The first documented incident, at 7:30pm, was reported on 10th Avenue near Holmes Street. A person called the police to report a BMW driving “extremely fast, going into an oncoming lane on the residential street, causing an oncoming driver to swerve out of the way, and then ‘doing a 180-degree spinout.’”

Two men were reported to have gotten out of the car outside Francisco’s home on Sapperton Avenue and started wrestling on the lawn.

Half an hour later, Francisco’s BMW was spotted heading west on Kingsway, approaching Salisbury Avenue by another resident. As another driver came to a stop at a red light in the curb lane, Francisco came from behind at “a really high speed” and moved into the left lane.

He was unable to stop for the red light and skidded halfway into the intersection, according to the ruling.

“He then ‘gunned it’ and continued driving,” Winteringham said.

At 8:43pm, just moments before he ran over Landreth, he was caught on residential surveillance video getting out of his BMW near Brentlawn and Willingdon, along with another man. The two “shov[ed] one another before they re-entered the car, with Mr Francisco in the driver’s seat.”

At that same time, a resident reported hearing a “very fast-sounding vehicle travelling perhaps 80km/h.”

“About 10 seconds later, she heard several horns honking. Five minutes after the horns honking, she heard sirens and saw fire trucks along Willingdon Avenue,” Winteringham said.

A fourth incident, which Winteringham did not provide a timestamp for, was caught on dashcam near Brentwood town centre. Francisco was caught south left onto Willingdon, but driving on the northbound lanes until a break in the median allowed him to cross over.

In the process, a bus had to brake to avoid crashing into him, and he almost crashed into a tanker truck when he merged onto the southbound lanes.

He then turned west onto Lougheed Highway.

Over triple the speed limit

“It is hard to watch,” Winteringham said of the dashcam footage that caught Francisco hitting Landreth with the BMW, “particularly where the BMW is seen speeding along the inside lane, cutting into the moving traffic, striking another vehicle, then losing control.”

After losing control, the BMW mounted the sidewalk, and Francisco hit Landreth, along with hitting and shearing a utility pole and coming to a stop half on the sidewalk and half in the bike lane.

“Ms Landreth came to a rest approximately 21 metres west of the BMW,” Winteringham said.

“A collision reconstruction expert concluded that, in the seconds leading up to the collision, the BMW was travelling westbound at 165km/h in the curb lane. Again, the posted speed limit is 50km/h.”

The passenger in Francisco’s car was conscious and transported to Vancouver General Hospital, while Francisco was unconscious in the driver’s seat.

Landreth, however, showed no vital signs when emergency crews arrived.

Francisco was transported to hospital, and police obtained a warrant for five vials of his blood, which found “at least” 188mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

Expert opinions included in the toxicology report stated that “all individuals, no matter what their tolerance to or experience with alcohol” are impaired at 100mg, and drivers with 150mg are 22 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no alcohol in their blood.

‘No doubt somebody you wanted in your corner’

“I cannot do justice to the profound sentiments expressed by each and every person who knew and loved Ms. Landreth,” Winteringham said.

“It is obvious to me that her commitment to family and friends knew no bounds,” she added, pointing out three particular themes that stood out in the victim impact statements.

Nearly everyone talked about the “love and support they received from Ms. Landreth, whether sharing her professional skills as an accountant or caring for children or hosting massive family meals.”

“She was no doubt somebody you wanted in your corner,” Winteringham said.

She also pointed to a particular quote from Landreth’s older sister, Beverley, which she said captured her “steadfast devotion to family.”

“Family was [her] priority. She was fiercely devoted to her children & grandchildren. She was such a willing ear to all of us. No doubt each one had a special relationship with her. Our [mother’]s statement resonates with her… ‘family is my life,’” wrote Beverley. (Edits in brackets were added by the court.)

“Louise, my dear little sister, we are forever broken. We love you so much. I feel blessed to have had you beside us for 27 days short of 70 years. You are missed beyond measure.”

‘She was not just my mom’

Finally, Winteringham pointed to the “physical and psychological toll” Landreth’s death had on her loved ones.

“In particular, her children describe the impact on their father, Ms Landreth’s husband of many, many years. He wrote about how much he misses having her at his side at sporting events where she would cheer on him and their children, and later their grandchildren,” Winteringham said.

“He wrote that despite the passage of time, he is confronted with a sense of loneliness every day and says his health and well‑being are no longer as robust as when she was alive.”

And her children were “profoundly impacted” by the loss. Her daughter, Jocelyn, reflected on “many beautiful memories and described how Landreth’s death “did not reflect who her mother was or how she should be remembered.”

Her youngest daughter, Shannon, described Landreth’s life prior to her death, including walking her dog, having weekly sleepovers with her granddaughters, and tending her gardens.

“My mom was my person. She was not just my mom … our bond was much bigger than that. She was my best friend, my mentor in life since day one, my financial advisor, my personal support system, my counsellor, the light of my life,” Shannon wrote.

And the son she had travelled from Ontario to visit in Vancouver described the “pain of trying to find his mother that evening, when she had not returned from her evening walk, and when she did not later answer her telephone.”

“He was later to learn that his mother had gone out for a walk and never to return,” Winteringham said.

‘Genuinely remorseful and horrified’

“It is clear that [Francisco’s] daughter is a vitally important part of his world,” Winteringham said in describing his background.

“As [his lawyer] described Mr Francisco’s relationship with his daughter, he was visibly emotional.”

He co-parents his daughter with his ex-spouse while living with a new partner and her 11-year-old son.

“Mr Francisco described a rather benign history with alcohol, though his driving record suggests otherwise. Albeit dated, he has five 24‑hour prohibitions on his driving record, which is often associated with drinking and driving,” Winteringham said.

“That said, Mr Francisco has ceased all consumption of alcohol since June 2020. He attends Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) almost daily.”

While he doesn’t remember the crash, having been diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury, he “accepts, nonetheless that his actions are as described.”

Reading aloud a statement in support of Francisco, his sister “described how her brother takes care of his daughter and those around him, including their aging parents.”

“His daughter wrote about the care and love she receives from her father,” Winteringham said.

Coworkers also wrote letters in support, describing his “strong core values, his strong work ethic, his acceptance of responsibility for this tragic event, and his utter remorse for what he has done.”

“I accept that Mr Francisco is genuinely remorseful and horrified by what he has done to the family and friends of Ms Landreth, his own family, and his friends and colleagues,” Winteringham said, calling his apology in court sincere.

“[His lawyer] submits, and I do not disagree, that the sentiments expressed in the letters of reference put him into a category of exceptionalism. He is an outstanding person who did a terrible thing.”

What the doctors said

Francisco “likely consumed more alcohol than was normal for him,” according to a psychological report and risk assessment prepared for the court, which also noted that he’s a low risk to reoffend as long as he maintains his sobriety.

And he was found not to be suffering from an urge to drink.

However, Winteringham found some parts of the psychological assessment reports to be inconsistent with his drinking and driving record. He has three roadside suspensions from 2002, one from 2004 and another from 2008, which “suggest Mr Francisco was prohibited from driving because he had consumed alcohol and was operating a vehicle.”

However, Francisco reportedly acknowledged just one 24-hour roadside suspension in his early 30s during his assessments.

“This self‑report is inconsistent with the driving record that is filed as an exhibit and admitted by Mr Francisco,” Winteringham said.

“I have reconciled this inconsistency because the driving record is admittedly dated, but it does cause me pause when assessing risk.”

One doctor noted the severe brain injury Francisco suffered from the crash, the effects of which include inattention, imbalance, sensory perception disturbances, fatigue, and an increased risk of dementia.

That doctor “expressed concern about the lack of available treatment for Mr Francisco while incarcerated and was of the opinion that lack of access to adequate programming negatively impacted his prognosis.”

‘This was an awful event’

Crafting a sentence is no easy task, Winteringham noted, pointing to “diametrically opposed perspectives” often prevalent in court cases—one that demands harsher sentences and another that calls for leniency.

“I will not attempt to articulate the loss experienced here. This was an awful event. It is an incredibly shameful waste of a life. Ms Landreth was a spouse, mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, friend. She is survived by many who miss her every day,” Winteringham said.

“The depth of the despair was apparent in the words of the victim impact statements that were read and received at the sentencing hearing. Each was stirring, each in its own way heartbreaking.”

Winteringham said there were “many” moving parts that need to be taken into account when imposing a sentence.

“Foremost among them is the harm done by the person’s conduct and their moral culpability. It must properly serve the objectives of denunciation of the conduct and deterrence,” she said, also noting that mitigating factors also have to be considered.

Aggravating factors

She pointed to three aggravating factors in the case, including Francisco’s history of roadside prohibitions and the list of “particularly disturbing” incidents in the lead-up to Landreth’s death.”

“Mr Francisco, with no recollection of these events, cannot explain what he was doing. He is not someone who went out to a pub to drink and then hopped in his car to get home,” Winteringham said.

“His driving reflects a callousness as he drove through residential neighbourhoods in Burnaby, from Kingsway to Lougheed to Willingdon. These were high‑traffic areas where vehicles and pedestrians were to be expected.”

The third aggravating factor is the impact of Landreth’s death on her loved ones, with Winteringham noting that “any sentence imposed should reflect that impact.”

Mitigating factors

She also noted some mitigating factors, including the “insight and remorse” Francisco exhibited with a clinical counsellor.

She also noted the guilty plea, which came with some level of dispute—particularly regarding the timing. Last-minute pleas typically don’t hold as much weight as an early guilty plea.

“In cases such as these, however, where Mr Francisco has no memory of the incident, in my view the court must be careful not to unfairly penalize him for recording his guilty plea when he did,” Winteringham said.

“Often there are matters that cannot be revealed to the court about why a plea may have been delayed.”

Finally, Winteringham also noted Francisco’s “significant steps” toward rehabilitation, including his regular attendance of AA meetings, his efforts to deal with his brain injury, and his maintaining full-time employment to support his daughter and family.

That being said, Winteringham said she “struggled” with the two-year sentence proposed by the defence.

“Despite [the defence’s] thoughtful submissions, I am of the view that a two‑year sentence does not adequately reflect the sentencing principles engaged,” she said.

As a result, Winteringham settled on a sentence of four years of incarceration.

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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