Crown wants 5 years for drunk driver who killed Edmonton couple

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When Breigh Cohen got the call that day, she dropped the phone, walked out the door and screamed while her terrified husband and children looked on.

“Breigh, I’m so sorry, but Jim and Annie were in a head-on collision this afternoon and they both died,” she recalled the voice on the other line saying.

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The man responsible for that collision sat beside his lawyer in an Edmonton courtroom Friday, his eyes straight ahead as Jim and Annie Macdonald’s loved ones detailed the pain of their loss.

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Taylor Yaremchuk, 30, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of impaired driving causing death. 

Yaremchuk admitted he was 2 1/2 times the legal blood alcohol limit when he plowed his car into the couple’s motorcycle Aug. 14, 2022.

Crown prosecutors are asking Yaremchuk be sentenced to five years in prison, while the defence is seeking three to five. Court of King’s Bench Justice Shaina Leonard will give her decision next month.

On the day of the crash, Yaremchuk — a Sherwood Park resident and former high school football quarterback — was drinking heavily at the Belvedere Golf and Country Club.

He then got behind the wheel of his Kia Optima. He travelled more than nine kilometres before crossing the centre line and striking the Macdonalds near Highway 628 near Range Road 231 east of Edmonton.

The motorcycle and its riders were thrown into the air and landed in a ditch, where the motorbike caught fire.

Cohen — one of more than a dozen friends and family to submit victim impact statements — regularly visits the scene to tend to her parents’ memorial wreathes. After the crash, she recalled finding her mom’s singed belongings, including her purse and some earrings.

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Jim and Annie were 68 and 63 when they were killed. Annie was a longtime civil servant, while Jim worked at MacEwan University and was involved in Rotary and the downtown business association.

Both were avid skiers who delighted in teaching the hobby to their grandchildren.

Almost two years later, Cohen, a nurse, still struggles to cope with the loss of both parents so suddenly and violently.

“The reason they are gone is senseless,” she said. “I thought I would have them at least another 20 years. I feel I’ve been cheated.”

Her mom and dad were active in the lives of Cohen and her husbands’ children — aged 11, 9 and 6 — and sent them messages and jokes every day.

“I thought losing my parents was the worst day of my life,” she said. “Watching my children suffer and cry has been worse.”

She remembered her dad as a “champion of the underdog” who went out of his way to hire refugees and people with disabilities when he ran his own business.

Both were cremated. Their ashes were combined in a single urn because the couple were inseparable, Cohen told court.

Crown prosecutor Ben Wiebe said Yaremchuk should receive five years in prison for each of the Macdonalds’ deaths, to be served simultaneously.

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He said it is aggravating that two people were killed in the crash, the dangerousness of Yaremchuk’s driving prior to the collision, and the fact he was more than two times the legal blood alcohol limit.

The Crown is also seeking a restitution order.

Wiebe admitted two mitigating factors suggesting a more lenient sentence: Yaremchuk’s early guilty plea and his “significant community support.”

Defence lawyer Michael Sparks asked for three to five years, depending whether Yaremchuk is ordered to pay restitution.

Yaremchuk, who was out on bail, was taken into custody at the end of Friday’s hearing. He is next in court May 27 for Leonard’s decision.

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