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Halifax impaired driver avoids jail time for crash that injured two others

Court stock photo.
- File

A Halifax woman has been handed a one-year conditional sentence, followed by a year’s probation, after pleading guilty to a charge of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

Tara Marie Burns, 32, was sentenced last week in Halifax provincial court by Judge Elizabeth Buckle, who also imposed a two-year driving prohibition.

Burns consumed alcohol after work Oct. 20, 2019, and then attempted to drive home. Her vehicle crossed the centre line on the Bedford Highway in Halifax at about 10:30 p.m. and struck an oncoming vehicle occupied by two people.

When police arrived at the crash scene, Burns was sitting on a curb. She admitted she was the driver and that she had been drinking.

After failing a roadside screening test, she was arrested and taken to the Halifax police station, where she was assessed by paramedics and then provided two breathalyzer samples. Her blood alcohol readings were both .100, above the legal limit of .08.

A man in the other car was hospitalized for more than a month with a broken sternum and also suffered bruises, temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. In addition, the court was told he experienced psychological, emotional and financial impacts and setbacks in treatment for a pre-existing health condition.

The other victim, a woman, sustained soft-tissue injuries that required physiotherapy, as well as headaches and ongoing psychological effects.

Crown attorney Kristyn Stevens requested a sentence of four to six months in jail for Burns, who had no previous criminal record. Stevens said that given the seriousness of the offence, only actual incarceration could properly denounce the conduct and deter others.

Defence lawyer Trevor McGuigan recommended an elevated fine and a period of probation. If the judge felt a custodial sentence was necessary, McGuigan asked that his client be permitted to serve it in the community under a conditional sentence order.

Burns had minor muscular injuries in the crash that have healed, but McGuigan said the consequences for her have been significant. He said her mental health has suffered, not only because of her empathy and compassion for the victims but also because the reality that she committed the offence has shaken her view of herself as a law-abiding person who would never harm anybody.

In her decision, Buckle said a custodial sentence was required but she was satisfied that allowing Burns to serve her time in the community would not endanger the public.

“I am also satisfied in all the circumstances, including the injuries suffered by the victims, that a conditional sentence with punitive conditions adequately addresses the objectives of denunciation and general deterrence,” the judge said. “To reflect the reality that a conditional sentence is less punitive than actual incarceration, the conditional sentence will be longer than the custodial sentence sought by the Crown.”

Burns will be on house arrest for the first nine months of the conditional sentence. The judge also ordered her not to possess or consume alcohol for the full 12 months of the conditional sentence, “not because I believe responsible drinking is a danger, but because this is a custodial sentence, albeit one served in the community, and consumption of alcohol is not consistent with that.”

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