Husband of slain B.C. Mountie draws on pain to change drunk-driving penalties
Brad Aschenbrenner, the husband of late West Shore RCMP officer Const. Sarah Beckett, says he'll stop at nothing to ensure drunk drivers who kill get stiffer sentences. July 31, 2018. (CTV Vancouver Island)
Published Tuesday, July 31, 2018 2:17PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 31, 2018 2:27PM PDT
The walls of a remote home perched on a hill in Metchosin, B.C. are less barriers from the elements and outside world and more of a shrine.
Hand-painted portraits, images and posters are hung carefully throughout Brad Aschenbrenner’s home.
The adornments offer little variety as these photographs and artistic offerings show only one thing – his late wife Const. Sarah Beckett.
Aschenbrenner says two years after her tragic death, his pain has yet to fade, and won’t until her death sparks change on a national level.
In the early morning hours of April 5, 2016, Brad woke his oldest son and delivered the news which would change the trajectory of his family's future. He told his young child that his mother was gone.
Earlier that morning, at around 3:30 a.m., Beckett was on patrol in the Victoria suburb of Langford when her cruiser was struck on the driver’s-side door by a pick-up truck. Beckett, a 32-year-old Mountie, wife and mother of two was killed almost instantly.
Her death would launch nationwide mourning, kickstart a massive investigation and result in a Vancouver Island man’s imprisonment.
But the still deeply wounded husband says the sentence for his wife's killer, who was drunk behind the wheel, sends a clear message to Canadians: “What could go wrong? Even if I do it I’m only going to get three years.”
To say Aschenbrenner has been tortured by the death of his wife would be a gross understatement. The former U.S. citizen has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and says he now takes heavy doses of anti-depressants to navigate the average day.
“Your mind just won’t shut down,” Aschenbrenner told CTV News. “The sleeping pills you take, they don’t work.”
The grip of his loss is all-encompassing, but now he is ready to use pain to pursue change. Driven by grief, he is mounting a campaign to create minimum sentences for drunk drivers who kill.
The impaired motorist responsible for Beckett's death, Kenneth Jacob Fenton, was sentenced to four years in prison last summer. Blood samples taken at a Victoria hospital after the fatal collision showed Fenton was driving at 3.5 times the legal limit. Aschenbrenner says the punishment is ridiculous.
“This is a servant of Canada. She is driving around at night protecting you while you sleep,” he said. “Who else has to die to get it to that point?”
No minimum prison term for drunk driving causing death
Under Canadian law, the low end of sentencing is essentially untethered. A person found guilty of impaired driving causing death faces a $1,000 dollar fine as a minimum, but no minimum jail term exists. There is a sentencing maximum of 25 years or life in prison.
That sentence and ones in its realm are doled out only to repeat offenders. The Langford father, now raising his two sons by himself, says too often judges hand out sentences below five years. He wants new laws to make half a decade in prison the minimum – and he isn’t alone.
St. Albert–Edmonton MP Michal Cooper has walked the path Beckett’s husband is about to tread. The Conservative Member of Parliament has campaigned passionately for years to create mandatory minimum sentences for both impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm.
“He was only given 4 years,” Cooper said about the sentencing for Beckett’s killer. “That is a travesty of justice. Something needs to change.” The Alberta MP has proposed amendments to several bills which would lock in minimum sentences, but they have never been successful.
Beckett’s husband is now planning speaking engagements with the prairie politician after he claims Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke MP Randal Garrison dismissed his attempts to gain support for mandatory minimum sentences.
Garrison's office provided this statement to CTV News: “What Mr. Aschenbrenner is asking for in regards to minimum sentencing for impaired driving cases is not the same as what MADD Canada have been calling for.”
Andrew Murie, the head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, says that is true. From his office in Mississauga, Murie sympathized with Sarah Beckett’s family but could not back the grieving father's campaign.
“When people commit crimes, especially drunk driving, they don’t think about the sentence when they are driving impaired,” Murie said. “They are thinking about getting home and how it won’t happen to them.”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has studied minimum sentences at length, and always found that for the complicated crime and the circumstances involved in sentencing, there is no magic number.
“We felt the court could support a minimum of 18 months,” said Murie. “And in our opinion that is grossly too low.” MADD says their key focus is on roadside deterrents and education. Their research has found people are less likely to drink and drive if they fear being pulled over or having their vehicle impounded.
In Aschenbrenner’s home, a painful past is shaping his future. Brad says his wife’s tragic death – and the sentence he calls ridiculous – send the wrong message to anyone who might dare drink and drive. He is now asking all Canadians to write their MP’s demanding a mandatory minimum sentence be imposed for drunk drivers who kill.
The photos of his late wife and his children’s mother will stay carefully hung on almost every wall as her memory is something that drives him, and something he can’t let go of.
“I’ve had people tell me to move on,” he said with tear-filled eyes. “ And in time I will.”