“None of My Children Saw 10 Years!” This was the response from Jennifer Neville-Lake when Marco Muzzo was sentenced to 10 years in prison after killing her three children and their grandfather, and injuring two others last September. The now 29-year old had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system at the time of the crash in Vaughn and pleaded guilty in February.
The defence was recommending an 8-year sentence while the prosecution asked for 12 years. Superior Court Justice Michelle Fuerst chose the middle ground; 10 years for the deaths and 5 years for causing the injuries, to be served concurrently. Muzzo will also be banned from driving for 12 years when he’s released.
This story has been trending in traditional and social media since the crash and court case began. Understandable. As is Neville-Lake’s heart-wrenching response after the sentencing hearing. While a decade behind bars was expected, she, like everyone else following this case, was hoping for a ground-breaking precedent-setting case. It didn’t happen nearly to the extent that was possible despite Judge Fuerst’s comment that, “Every drunk driver is a potential killer.”
The National Post reported that the sentence is one of the harshest for impaired driving causing death and is intended to prevent others from drinking and driving. “By going over the defence request for eight years, and siding closely with the Crown’s request of 10 to 12 years, it also reflects the intense public outrage at the image of a callous, privileged young man stumbling drunk out of a private jet onto Ontario’s roads. By exceeding it, Judge Fuerst has raised the bar and set a powerful precedent, which may yet be reviewed on appeal. But as she herself acknowledged, justice is elusive, because nothing can repair the damage he did.” 1
The ‘damage’ was and continues to be devastating for this family. Siblings, Daniel Neville-Lake (9), Harrison (5), and Milagros (2), and their grandfather, Gary Neville (65) were killed. The grandmother, Neriza Neville, and great-grandmother, Josephina Frias, survived the crash. “In one fell swoop, he decimated an entire generation of the Neville-Lake family, its legacy and its future,” said Fuerst. This case has striking similarities to a crash on Highway 38 near Harrowsmith on November 22, 1998. Kevin Scott, with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system at the time of the accident, killed four people, including 3 children, and injured two others. Christopher Kilminster (26), his sons, Christopher (5), Bradley (4), and their cousin, Jamie Lee Rattray (14) died. Kilminster’s wife and two-year-old son survived.
Scott, an unlicensed driver of a stolen car, pleaded guilty to four counts of impaired driving and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm. He was sentenced to 7.5 years, and was freed 5 years later after serving two-thirds of the sentence.
18 years have passed between the Scott case and the Muzzo – and notably, the sentencing for this type of crime hasn’t changed very much.
Drinking and then getting behind the wheel continues to be commonplace in Ontario. The OPP locally reports that an Easter weekend crackdown on seatbelt use resulted in 10 people being charged with impaired driving. Toronto area media report that York Police arrested 13 impaired drivers and Durham Regional Police laid 10 impaired driving charges over the long weekend.
Tougher penalties are called for, in my view.