After more than two years through the court system, some closure finally came to the friends and family of Rita Sundstrom.
Lisa Torp Jepsen was sentenced to 15 months in prison and handed three years probation and a seven year driving prohibition for causing the crash that killed Sundstrom just south of Nakusp on Nov. 10, 2011.
Jepsen pleaded guilty to the charge of dangerous driving causing death after provincial crown counsel reduced the more severe charge of impaired driving causing death.
Crown counsil Phil Seagram read out the circumstances of the crash. It was shortly before 3 p.m. and Sundstrom was on her way to her home in Burton from her work at Chumley’s restaurant when she was smashed into by Jepsen and killed on impact.
Jepsen was rushing to see her 11-year-old son in Nakusp. She crossed a double-solid line on a blind hill in order to pass another vehicle and crashed her red Honda Civic into Sundstrom’s blue Honda Civic, Seagram told the court.
Seagram spoke of the driver Jepsen was passing, who described her as a “crazy person” roaring past. When he realized a collision was about to happen, he pulled over to make space, but it was too late. He heard a tremendous bang and stopped his car. He tried to help, but there was nothing he could do.
Paramedics who arrived on scene, and later hospital staff, detected signs of alcohol on Jepsen, but there was lack of proof that she was impaired at the time of the crash. She did admit to having drank the night before. Seagram emphasized the presence of alcohol during sentencing, saying it was a factor, even if she wasn’t impaired.
He said her passing maneuver was “intentional and deliberate risk taking.”
“It was unsafe to pass and risk was taken deliberately,” he said.
A somber and teary-eyed gathering of close to 20 of Sundstrom’s friends and family members sat in the back of the court while Seagram recounted what happened.
He described Sundstrom as someone well known in Nakusp, with many friends and family in the community. Her death devastated her partner. “The loss has been great,” said Seagram.
Jepsen’s lawyer Michael Newcombe described her as someone who’d had trouble with relationships and alcohol and had been dealing with the trauma of the event. The reason she didn’t plead guilty right away was because of the penalty that comes with an impaired driving charge.
Jepsen provided a tearful, emotional apology to the court. “I grieve for Rita almost every day,” she said. “I’m so very sorry.”
Judge Donald Sperry delivered an eloquent sentencing, noting the impact the crash had both on Sundstrom’s family and friends, but also on Jepsen. “When a generally good person does a bad thing and the consequences are catastrophic, the justice system is in a difficult position to determine where justice lies,” he said.
He noted Jepsen’s sincere apology and challenges in life, but he also noted the role alcohol played in the crash, saying you don’t need to be drunk for your judgement to be impaired. “It’s possible Rita Sundstrom would have died anyway,” he said. “But it is also possible Ms. Jepsen would have acted differently if she was alcohol free.”
He handed down a 15 month prison sentence, three years probation (including abstaining from alcohol) and a seven year driving prohibition.
Afterwards, outside the court room, Sundstrom’s friends and family discussed the sentence. They declined to speak publicly about it.
“She was a great person,” said one. “And nothing’s going to bring her back.”