A former City of Grand Forks councillor was sentenced to three months house arrest and a two-year driving prohibition last week after two impaired driving charges in the last year.
Michael Wirischagin, formerly of Grand Forks and now living in Penticton, was heard on two charges of impaired driving in Grand Forks on Thursday. Court was presided over by Justice Rob Brown.
David Magher for the Crown presented that Wirischagin was first charged with impaired driving on June 14, 2015, for appearing in what RCMP described as an extremely incapacitated state behind the wheel of his truck, parked, with his then-four-year-old daughter in the vehicle. No breath sample was taken at the time.
The second charge of impaired driving came over a year later, on Jan. 26, 2017, just three weeks before Wirischagin was due to appear in court on the first charge. The Crown presented that Wirischagin was driving at 150 kilometres per hour when he was pulled over and failed a roadside sobriety test, and once at the station gave two breath samples at 220 and 210, or nearly three times the legal limit.
The Crown made few submissions for the judge’s consideration.
The Crown asked for probation in relation to the first charge, and 30 days jail time in relation to the second charge. The Crown presented aggravating factors in both cases: on the first that Wirischagin’s daughter was in the car; on the second charge that he awaiting trial and was driving so dangerously during the winter months in great excess of the legal limit.
Wirischagin plead guilty on both counts.
Wirischagin’s defense lawyer Don White suggested $1,000 fine and a one year driving prohibition on the first charge and a three-month conditional sentence (house arrest) with some exceptions, a curfew, nine months probation and an 18 month driving prohibition on the second charge.
The bulk of the court appearance was submissions of exhibits by White in Wirischagin’s defense. Those exhibits included counselling records, character references, proof of employment and driving rehabilitation programs. There was also a letter from Wirischagin’s counsellor at Pathways Addiction Resource Centre, where Wirischagin sought alcohol and other counselling, White said.
According to his lawyer, Wirischagin is currently living in Penticton where he is employed full-time at a winery. He walks to work each day and is taking significant steps to deal with underlying anxiety and depression issues that played a role in his drinking through counselling, hobbies and pets.
The issue of Wirischagin’s custody arrangement with his daughter was heavily discussed throughout.
White spoke of Wirischagin’s public presence at the time of his first charge and significant volunteer experience. White also asserted that the stress of being a city councillor, a threat from another councillor, and the impact of the water meter issue all had an affect Wirischagin’s mental health that contributed to his health at the time of the first offense.
At this time of his first charge, Wirischagin had numerous prescriptions for anxiety and insomnia, among others, according to prescriptions and doctor’s notes White submitted as exhibits. His lawyer presented to the court the reason for his incapacitated state that day was a combination of dehydration, exhaustion, stress and a poor reaction to a change in medication prescribed by his doctor. White said Wirischagin admits to consuming one beer that day and pulled over because he was concerned about his own state.
One the second charge, White said Wirischagin drank of his on violition and was remorseful for that decision. The Crown noted a bottle of Fireball was found in the car.
“Michael resigned in disgrace from council,” White said. “His name in Grand Forks became mud.”
White read a statement from Wirischagin to the court that spoke to the “deepest remorse, regret and full responsibility” he felt.
“I apologize to those on the road that day. This never should have happened, and I have lost the ability to hold my head high,” White read. Wirischagin was visibly upset and emotional, and asked his lawyer to read his statement.
Wirischagin also apologized to his mother “who raised him better,” his daughter, and the Crown and court for “wasting time, this included.”
Justice Brown then spoke, noting he believed Wirischagin’s genuine remorse for his actions and that he had the support of his mother, who was in court for the duration of Wirischagin’s appearance.
After outlining the facts of the case and the submissions from both sides, Brown granted a conditional sentence of 90 days on the second charge. For the first 60 days, Wirischagin will be on house arrest with exceptions for work and travel to and from work; from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday to spend time with his daughter; and attending scheduled counseling.
For the last 30 days of his conditional sentence Wirischagin will have an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. On the first charge the judge ordered a $1,000 fine and victim surcharges. Wirischagin will be on probation from 18 months total, or 15 months beyond his conditional sentence.
“The focus here is rehabilitative,” Brown said, noting Wirischagin appeared in court without a prior criminal record and the damage it would do to his daughter for Wirischagin to serve a jail sentence.
Wirischagin will also have two 24-month driving prohibitions, to be served concurrently.
“You have done a lot [since the charges] and I recognize you suffered the consequences because you were in the public eye,” Brown said, noting that unlike many charged with impaired driving, Wirischagin did not have anonymity.
“I commend your efforts to get on track, you have proven you are extremely productive,” he added.