A fuel truck driver found guilty in a Nelson court nearly a year ago of polluting Lemon Creek and the Slocan River in 2013 was sentenced on Tuesday.
Judge Lisa Mrozinski handed Danny LaSante a $20,000 fine, with two years to pay, and half of it to be contributed to the Habitat Conservation Fund.
Lasante was found guilty in March 2018 of one count under the Environmental Management Act for causing the spill of about 35,000 litres of jet fuel into the creek. Lasante’s employer, Executive Flight Centre, was supplying fuel to the provincial government to fight a forest fire at the time.
Mrozinski said fines in cases similar to LaSante’s have ranged as high as $40,000. The crown prosecutor in this case had asked for $30,000.
Mrozinski said a fair sentence should take into account the culpability of the offender, the gravity of the offense and the offender’s ability to pay.
In this case, she said, “Mr. LaSante is moderately culpable, significant environmental damage has been caused, and the nature of the offense — the careless transport of a dangerous substance — calls for a denunciatory sentence that sends a strong message of general deterrence.”
As for his ability to pay, Mrozinski said, “This is not a fine he could pay with some ease, but of sufficient amount as to act as a deterrent.”
LaSante, 40, lives in Revelstoke and works as a fuel truck driver, having been a truck driver for more than 20 years.
He read a statement in court, saying that he accepted the judge’s guilty verdict and was very remorseful for the damage the accident caused, “although what we have not talked about in this entire case is that my life could have been in danger by doing my job to the very best of my knowledge, trying to help a community in need.”
“I am sensitive to environmental issues like the one I caused,” he said, adding that in his current truck driving job he is “very aware of the load, the location, and the terrain I drive on since this incident. It is always in the back of my mind now. After this entire experience I will do everything in my power to never repeat a situation like this again.”
At last March’s trial, the provincial government, also a defendant, was found not guilty.
Executive Flight Centre was originally a defendant in the case but charges were dropped in October 2017, because delays between the initial charges and the trial prejudiced a fair hearing, leaving LaSante as the only defendant.
Since then, however, the Crown has appealed the dropped charges against the company, and won. The date of an appeal hearing has not been set.
Slocan Valley resident Marilyn Burgoon, who got this court process started by initiating a private prosecution that was eventually taken over by the federal prosecutors, had this to say after LaSante’s sentencing:
“Although I did not name the driver in my private prosecution and still feel that the responsibility starts at the top, i.e. government and corporation, I attended the entire court case and learned and agreed with the court that the driver did have some responsibility.
“The fact that Executive Flight chose to leave him taking the fall and use the Jordan rule to try and avoid accountability for the spill is unfortunately an occurrence that repeats itself when corporations abandon their workers. I hope when Executive Flight gets to court they will be accountable for their negligence.”