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Court Watch criticizes sentence

The Sunshine Coast Court Watch group is protesting what it calls a "very lenient" sentence for a dangerous driver who smashed into a police car during a high-speed getaway.

The Sunshine Coast Court Watch group is protesting what it calls a "very lenient" sentence for a dangerous driver who smashed into a police car during a high-speed getaway.

Judge Dan Moon sentenced 18-year-old Peter Fromager to a $2,000 fine plus a two-year driving prohibition after Fromager pleaded guilty to dangerous driving on May 3. The court watch group has asked for an appeal of that sentence, saying it "appears to be at odds with the sentencing principles of specific and general deterrence."

Fromager knew he was driving without a licence the night of March 8 when a police officer tried to pull over his yellow Pontiac Sunfire for speeding in Upper Gibsons. Afraid his parents would find out his licence had been suspended more than a year earlier, Fromager hit the accelerator, leading the police car on a wild chase along Hwy. 101. The police officer estimated the Sunfire's speed at 160 km/hr as it accelerated past Tim Hortons and headed out of town. The police report described Fromager almost losing control when he braked hard to avoid hitting a slower vehicle in front of him, then crossing the highway's double yellow line to pass. In Roberts Creek, Fromager turned left onto Lower Road without signaling, cutting the corner and ending up in the ditch on the wrong side of the road.

The police officer pulled up next to the Sunfire's passenger door in an attempt to block Fromager's flight. But when the officer stepped out of the police car, Fromager drove off again, hitting the police car and shattering its headlight as he accelerated down the steep hill of Lower Road. The police officer, who abandoned the pursuit at that point, estimated the Sunfire's speed at 180 to 220 km/hr as Fromager crossed into the wrong lane on a downhill blind curve.

The officer used the Sunfire's licence plate to track Fromager to his parents' home on Beach Avenue. When arrested, Fromager turned to his mother and said, "Sorry, Mom, I ran into the cops."

Fromager's lawyer, Jamie Flemming, described Fromager's flight as a "moment of madness" for an otherwise exemplary young man. He presented character references from Fromager's grandmother, his employer, his Capilano College instructor and the parent of a youth whom Fromager coaches in soccer.

Moon scolded Fromager, saying he "risked his own life, the life of the police officer and the life of every other person who was on the road at that time because he didn't want his parents to know he didn't have a driver's licence."

He noted Fromager's bad driving record, which included a 12-hour suspension for alcohol, a speeding offence which resulted in the cancellation of his licence in August 2003, driving without his licence in September 2004 and driving without a seat belt three days after that.

Cockfield recommended a jail sentence for this "extraordinarily serious incident," but Moon decided a fine was the appropriate punishment.

"If Mr. Fromager is seen to be sentenced too lightly, it will not address denunciation and will not deter anyone," Moon said.

But Sharon Charboneau, spokeswoman for the court watch group, believes that Fromager was sentenced too lightly. "The sentence didn't send a message to Mr. Fromager and doesn't send a message to the community that what he did was serious and there could have been very, very disastrous results. Lower Road is unlit, it's winding, it's narrow. He was driving, according to police reports, at up to 220 km/hr. That's just outrageous," said Charboneau. "I think the thing that upset us most was he had already been warned by the police. He had been caught driving without a seatbelt, he had been caught driving without a licence, but it didn't seem to make an impression on him."

In a letter to Cockfield, Sunshine Coast Court Watch asked for a Crown appeal of Fromager's sentence.

"Instead of being grateful he was not going to jail, Mr. Fromager showed no apparent remorse following sentencing and was overheard by Court Watch members bragging about how he got off lightly," said the letter. "Mr. Fromager may be a talented musician and a gifted athlete, but he is a dangerous driver who is not getting the message that a car is a weapon that can kill." Sunshine Coast Court Watch members have been active as observers in Sechelt provincial court for over a year, but this is the first time the group has made a public statement about a judge's sentence.

Cockfield said he did not intend to appeal Fromager's sentence. "The sentence the judge handed down isn't out of the range for sentences of this type," he said.

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