It was around 10:40 p.m. on Oct. 10, 2014 when 25-year-old Danille Kerpan was killed by a drunk driver hurtling the wrong way down Highway 11 near Bladworth.
The night was clear and the roads were dry, Crown prosecutor Michael Pilon told the court during the sentencing hearing for John Karl Koch, 50. But 20 minutes before the fatal crash, calls started flooding in about an erratic driver who was heading northbound in the southbound lanes.
Many said they tried flashing their lights or honking their horns when the SUV sped past. Twelve different callers described the driver going speeds between 120 and 150 kilometres an hour. Some had to swerve out of the way.
One of them was Kerpan’s fiance, who was driving in front of her that night. He was able to avoid Koch’s SUV, but saw it hit another vehicle behind him. He prayed Kerpan’s car was part of the traffic jam that had formed as a result of the crash, but knew deep down it was her who had been hit.
A nurse on scene said she believed Kerpan had died before her car burst into flames, and a forensic pathologist confirmed her cause of death was from the injuries sustained in the crash.
Koch had been ejected during the collision. Witnesses said they could smell alcohol, and seven Budweiser beer cans were splayed near the crash site. Court heard Koch couldn’t even remember where he was coming from that night.
The man, who had been living in Dundurn at the time, pleaded guilty earlier this month to impaired driving causing death. In Saskatoon Provincial Court on Tuesday, Judge Sanjeev Anand accepted the Crown and defence joint-submission of a four-year prison sentence and imposed a seven-year driving ban to begin after Koch completes his sentence.
“This doesn’t mean her life is worth four years,” Anand explained to the packed courtroom, where around 50 of Kerpan’s family and friends lined the walls of the small room wearing pins with a picture of the victim’s smiling face.
The sentence was in the appropriate range for the offence of drunk driving causing death, Anand said. Several other factors were taken into consideration, including Koch’s driving record, which contained 10 speeding tickets and some at-fault collisions, and the prolonged nature of the incident.
In the end, court heard Koch had travelled at dangerous speeds for 43 kilometres without stopping, despite numerous attempts by motorists to flag him down.
“He is very lucky he didn’t kill others,” Pilon said.
For those same reasons, the Crown had argued for a 10-year driving prohibition, the highest on the range of three to 10 years. Kerpan’s parents said the sentence and driving ban reflects the stiffer penalties they were hoping to see.
“I’m not going to say I’m happy; there’s nothing that will make me happy other than having our daughter back. But it was a comforting thing to see that the judge chose to take a stand on this,” Kerpan’s father Allan, a former Saskatchewan politician, said outside the courthouse.
Koch’s blood-alcohol level was between .226 and .251, or three times the legal limit. His son told paramedics that his father had an alcohol problem and was going through a divorce.
Dressed entirely in black with a pair of crutches beside the prisoner box, Koch dabbed his eyes with a tissue as he listened to the emotional victim impact statements read aloud in court.
“My family and I are sentenced to life”
Kerpan’s mom, Melanie, described feeling “nauseous, numb and weak” when police informed her that her daughter was dead.
“She gave me energy and enthusiasm, which now I sorely lack,” she told the court. “Without exaggeration, I think about her every hour of every day.”
The victim’s sister called Kerpan her “soulmate,” while her brother described writing emails to his sister in hopes that “cyber space may have a direct line to heaven.”
Many family members talked about how they struggle to drive on highways since Kerpan’s death, especially at night.
“I think about how scared she must have been,” her future sister-in-law said.
Kerpan’s fiance wrote a statement that was read by a victim service’s worker. Court heard how the couple had been renovating their home, and that the happiest day of his life was when they bought their engagement ring together.
Now, “I don’t care about anything,” he wrote.
Other family members and friends said Kerpan was witty and wise beyond her years. “She radiated gentleness and happiness,” her father Allan told the court. Her family mourned the fact they would never see Kerpan get married or raise a family. Allan described the harsh reality of writing a cheque for his daughter’s funeral instead of her wedding.
The offender cannot change what he’s done, Melanie said in her statement, but she urged him to do something positive to help prevent it from happening again. When he addressed the court, Koch indicated he would like to speak to students about impaired driving when he completes his sentence.
Outside the courthouse, Melanie said they want to continue working on MADD campaigns like putting signs on the backs of semi-trailers showing victims of drunk driving. But her husband admits he’s unsure how he should be feeling now that the court case is over.
“This is going to sound really kind of weird, but I’m going to be sad if my grief subsides because I really don’t want it to end. I’m afraid I’ll forget and I don’t want to forget.”