GUELPH – Craig Kaluza had left a funeral home with his mother’s ashes in an urn on Feb. 6.
“He was upset, he was crying,” prosecutor Peter Keen said in Guelph court on Nov. 10.
Kaluza dropped his glasses, looking down to retrieve them.
“During the course of doing that … he drifted across the centre line,” Keen said.
Driving in the opposite direction on Highway 6 between Mount Forest and Riverstown in Wellington North, another man swerved, avoiding a life-altering collision.
Sharmila Jeyaruban, following right behind, wouldn’t be so fortunate.
“We thought it was just going to be another regular day,” Jeyaruban’s daughter Taylor Beaumont told court, reading her victim impact statement aloud.
The family knew something was off when Jeyaruban hadn’t called to say she arrived at work in Mississauga.
“She drove for six minutes,” Beaumont said of the time between when her mother left home and when Kaluza’s Nissan Rouge slammed head-on into her Honda CRV.
“I stay awake all night sometimes picturing the car,” Beaumont told court.
“Do you picture the accident, what you did to another human being, every time you drive past the location [and] see the memorial we set up for her?” she asked Kaluza.
Court heard Jeyaruban’s vehicle was hit with such force that she was killed instantly.
An OPP officer noticed alcohol on Kaluza’s breath before he was extricated by emergency workers, and containers of alcohol were also found in his vehicle.
Police obtained an order for Kaluza’s medical records after he was transported to Hamilton in critical condition with a detached aorta, ruptured bowels, broken collarbone, knee and hip, and a shattered foot.
Records revealed that, at the time of testing, there wasn’t enough alcohol in his blood to cause impairment.
“When readings are under 50 (milligrams per 100ml of blood), it means we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that somebody’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired,” Keen explained.
At the Crown’s request, a criminal charge of impaired operation causing death was dropped.
“It is not alleged that he was impaired,” Keen said, adding there was no reasonable chance of a criminal conviction.
Instead, the Mount Forest resident pleaded guilty to a non-criminal, provincial offence of careless driving causing death.
“Today stands before you an individual, your honour, by all accounts who is a good man,” defence lawyer Craig Penney told court.
“He’s good to his friends, he’s supportive of his family,” Penney added of the 46-year-old transit worker.
“I am truly sorry to the family that they lost their mother because of my bad decision,” Kaluza told court.
Waking up in hospital weeks after the crash to find himself badly injured, reality set in.
“When my wife sat down and told me this, I was in shock. I just lost my mother, I couldn’t imagine how much more was their grief,” he said.
“I killed an innocent mother; I have to live with that forever,” he said between heavy breaths as he seemed to struggle through his remarks.
“I am so sorry for the pain and suffering I have caused.”
Although Justice Ronald Minard said there was a “moral level of culpability to be punished,” further aggravated by drinking, it didn’t rise to the level of a prison sentence.
“I don’t mean to be facetious or make light of the matter, but at the end of the day, tragically, it is what it is,” Minard said, adding Kaluza came close to dying.
“The vast majority of times … nobody would have known, he’d have picked up his glasses, returned his vehicle back to its lane of traffic and life goes on,” the judge said.
“Tragically, that’s not what happened here, and this poor lady lost her life and her family has been ripped apart.”
A $5,000 fine and a two-year driving suspension for Kaluza was proposed in a joint Crown-defence submission.
“People should not be able to kill someone and get a slap on the wrist with a fine – a life was taken,” Beaumont said in her statement.
The prosecutor acknowledged a “palpable sense of outrage” in Beaumont’s statement.
“What we are trying to do is come up with a monetary penalty that punishes the behaviour that he engaged in, which was a lapse of attention that had this terrible consequence,” Keen explained.
The judge accepted the recommendation for a fine and driving prohibition, meaning Kaluza avoids prison.
“I wish I could do more,” Minard said, in part, explaining the court must work within the boundaries of the law provided by government.
“When he wakes up in the morning, this will probably be one of the first things he thinks of every morning, and it will be one of the last things he thinks of every night when he puts his head on the pillow,” Minard said.
“In his own way, although not serving any jail time, in his own head and his own heart, he’ll be serving time on this for the rest of his life, and so that is what it is.”