Driver pleads guilty in Campbell River crash that killed his passenger
The parents of a 21-year-old man who was killed in a crash in Willow Point in March of last year are hoping video surveillance of the vehicle travelling through the area will one day be released.
“There’s multiple videos,” says Kevin Kowbel. “It’s a highly surveillanced area of Campbell River that will be released. It’s powerful to watch and a lesson to be learned.”
Kevin says his son Dustin was picked up from their family home in the early hours of March 28, 2020. Within six minutes the car he was a passenger in had crashed into a tree.
The driver of the car, 23-year-old Griffin Lee Grant, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death in Campbell River court Thursday morning.
The plea came as a surprise to the Kowbel family, as a two-day preliminary hearing was about to get underway in the case.
“It doesn’t make it easy,” Kevin says. “It’s movement in the right direction on admittance of guilt and stopping the 17, 18 months of court cases; we see an end coming to at least the court side of things.”
Due to COVID-19 precautions, courtroom access was limited to the parents of both the driver and his passenger, as well as a single member of the news media.
An agreed-upon statement of facts was supplied to the judge by both the Crown and defense lawyers. It indicated Grant had been seen picking up items from a liquor store around 10 p.m. and then went to a private residence to consume them. He then arrived at Dustin’s home at 3:36 a.m., with the two men leaving the home around 3:45 a.m.
The statement said the vehicle then proceeded at a high speed north along the Island Highway at Willow Point, when it came upon the location where police were attending an un-related investigation of a possible commercial break-in.
According to the statement, an officer in a cruiser was about to make a left turn off of the highway into an alley as part of his investigation when he noticed the Subaru coming towards him at a high rate of speed. An analyst would later estimate the vehicle’s speed to be approximately 120 kilometres per hour, even though speed limit in the area is 50.
The vehicle missed the cruiser and went up onto a raised medium, striking a tree, and the passenger side of the vehicle was ripped open. The impact caused Dustin to be ejected from the vehicle despite the fact that he was wearing a seat belt.
Officers who arrived immediately say Grant was exiting the vehicle and smelled of alcohol. After an initial examination, he was arrested at the scene. The statement indicated that Grant admitted to speeding but not to being impaired. The report says Grant accused the officer of cutting in front of him and failing to signal.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C., which is tasked with investigating incidents involving police that result in death or serious harm to a member of the public, did look into the crash. The IIO verified that the crash was in no way connected to the break-in and also determined the officer didn’t play a role in the crash. The office’s usual public report has not been released because of the court process.
While Grant was not injured in the crash, Dustin sustained multiple injuries to his head, torso and leg. He died of his injuries in hospital at 2:50 p.m. that same day.
During the court proceedings, the judge questioned Grant to see if he agreed to the facts presented and also ensured he knew an admission of guilt would likely result in a criminal record and jail time. He answered: “I understand.”
The judge also verified that Grant’s plea was voluntary.
Dustin’s parents are hoping the incident will become a “teachable moment” for other young drivers and referred to a news release RCMP put out the day after the crash.
“The incident was tragic on so many levels,” read the statement from Const. Maury Tyre. “As sad as this scenario is, it’s also a stark reminder and a chance to educate on the perils of driving and excessive speeds. Being the driver of a vehicle means that you are responsible for your vehicle, the well-being of other passengers in it and every other person and vehicle on the road. That is why driving is a privilege in our society and not a right.”
“That’s a powerful message and should be listened to by all,” Kevin says.
Sadly, the crash was not the first impaired driving incident to darken the Kowbel family. Kevin says another mishap happened 38 years earlier almost to the day.
“An impaired driver ran a stop sign; it knocked my wife into a coma. She almost died, and almost to the day, another impaired driver barged into our lives and killed our son,” he says.
The judge ordered a pre-sentence report to be written on Grant. He will face a sentencing on Dec. 14.