Alberta man gets 2 years for school crash that killed girl, injured 2 others

ST. PAUL, Alta. – A man who killed a student when he crashed his minivan into a school while he was having a seizure has been handed a two-year sentence and banned from driving for life.

But the judge also gave Richard Benson just over a year’s credit for time he has already spent in jail.

Justice Paul Belzil said Benson wasn’t being punished for having a medical condition, but for driving when he shouldn’t have been.

He noted that Benson, who had not been taking his medication for the seizures, has accepted full responsibility for the crash and is genuinely remorseful.

Benson, 47, pleaded guilty earlier this year to criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

He told court in St. Paul, Alta., on Thursday that he “never ever meant to go out and hurt any children. I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me.”

The Crown had suggested that Benson be sentenced to three years and never be allowed to drive again.

Prosecutor Jeff Rudiak argued a message needed to be sent to other drivers who have seizures and aren’t taking their medication.

Benson admitted in a court document that he wasn’t supposed to be driving and rarely took prescribed medication to control his seizures.

Defence lawyer Jason Conlin had pointed out that Benson didn’t remember the October 2012 crash and, when he learned what happened, wanted to trade places with the girl he killed.

Conlin said Benson felt OK at times and didn’t think he needed to take his medication.

Benson had just dropped two of his children off at different schools in St. Paul and stopped at the post office. He had a seizure as he was driving home down a back alley.

His van bolted at about 80 km/h down more back lanes, crossed five streets and slammed into a window and wall at Racette Junior High School. It landed in a lower-level Grade 6 classroom and sent students and desks flying. Three children were pinned underneath the vehicle.

Megan Wolitski, 11, died in hospital the next day.

Classmate Angelina Luce suffered a brain injury, speech and eye problems. Maddie Guitard remains in a vegetative state and is not expected to recover, say court documents.

The court documents also lay out how Benson has suffered from seizures since a severe beating in 2002 put him in a coma and left him with a metal plate in his head.

When he applied for driver’s licences, he didn’t declare that he had health problems that might affect his ability to drive. The province requires people to disclose such information.

Doctors had also been writing prescriptions for medication, but the documents say Benson rarely filled them or took the pills he did get. His seizures had been increasing in recent years.

He suffered one at home four days before the crash and refused to go a doctor.

Benson “continued to drive while being aware of the danger or risk he posed to the lives or safety of others while operating a motor vehicle,” said the document.

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