For LeeEllen Carroll and her three children, the killing of her husband Bryan Casey by an impaired driver four and a half years ago is a black hole they'll never be rid of, she told a Pembroke courtroom Wednesday during a powerful, 45-minute victim impact statement.
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"Every day I wake up and the first thing I notice is my empty bed," Carroll said at the sentencing hearing for Dr. Christy Natsis, leaving some of Natsis's supporters in tears. "My mattress floats at times like a raft in the middle of a black ocean. ... I've had to coach myself on how to breathe it."
After hearing all the evidence in a trial that lasted nearly three years, and submissions over the last two days from the Crown and defence as to sentencing, Natsis will find out on Nov. 12 how much time she'll spend in prison for crashing into and killing Casey on Highway 17 west of Ottawa on March 31, 2011.
Carroll's statement Wednesday recalled vivid scenes of her family's grief: reading the books her husband had on the nightstand to find out what he was thinking; letters their children wrote to God to ask for help for their dad; her inconsolable son sobbing so hard one night he nearly gagged. "'Why did she have to kill daddy?'"
'You ask me if it hurts? Only when I breathe.' - LeeEllen Carroll, Bryan Casey's widow
Carroll remembered the day, a few months after the crash, she entered the house after putting out the garbage to find her seven-year-old son in tears, worried she was dead, too, when he called out for her and she didn't reply. She remembered the night her daughter lay in bed praying so hard she was trembling, begging for her dad to visit even for just one day.
"You killed a human being. How inhumane. His name is Bryan Casey," she said, addressing Natsis, who sat next to her husband and occasionally hung her head. "He was someone's son … father of three young children. They are too pained to be here. He was a man, my loving husband."
"You ask me if it hurts? Only when I breathe," she said, ending her statement.
Carroll placed photos of Casey on the witness stand then turned to face Justice Neil Kozloff. They looked at one another for what seemed like a minute, in silence, before exchanging brief words the courtroom couldn't hear.
Natsis expresses 'shame, regret, remorse'
The defence, led by high-profile Ottawa lawyer Michael Edelson, had no reply to Carroll's statement or the four others read by Casey's father, William Gus Casey, who has travelled by plane nearly 97,000 kilometres to sit by Carroll's side every day of the proceedings.
He said his pain "is like a dagger to the heart." He told court about what it's been like to watch his daughter-in-law's grief, and his grandchildren's, about the photo of his son they place on the star at the top of their tree every Christmas they've spent without him.
And for the first time since her proceedings began, Natsis addressed the court herself.
The Pembroke, Ont., dentist said she was haunted by the statement Carroll made to reporters after she was found guilty of impaired and dangerous driving causing death in May. Carroll said she'd never forget the looks of pain on her children's faces when she told them their father was dead.
Natsis said that as a mother, she can't imagine it and that if she could change the events of that night, she would.
"I stand here, feeling great shame, regret, remorse," she said, adding that she's not looking for sympathy and that she knows her pain pales in comparison to the Casey family's suffering.
She told Kozloff the events of 2011 inspired a period of "deep reflection," that she's made positive changes in her life, and that whatever happens to her, she'll remain committed to those changes.
The Crown is seeking a six- to eight-year prison sentence with a 10-year driving prohibition and an order to submit DNA. The defence is asking for a three-and-a-half to four-year prison sentence with a three- to four-year driving prohibition following sentencing.
Both sides agree that Natsis should serve an additional 40 days in jail for breaching her release conditions when she bought two bottles of vodka in the months following the fatal crash.
Natsis showed 'selfishness,' Crown says
Crown prosecutor John Ramsay argued during sentencing submissions Wednesday that Natsis, a mother of two teenagers, is entirely the reason Casey's three children will grow up without their father.
He said her actions in 2011 showed a "selfishness" and disregard for the consequences of her actions.
It's difficult to reconcile the remorse she showed in her pre-sentencing interview with the evidence of her conduct on the night of the crash and months later, when she bought two bottles of vodka against a court order, Ramsay told court.
On March 31, 2011, in the hours following the crash, she asked for gum to mask the smell of her breath, misled a physician who asked her if she had been drinking and refused to give a blood or urine sample, creating a pattern of indifference, Ramsay said.
But when Ramsay said Natsis tried to blame Casey for the crash, he was quickly rebuffed by Kozloff, who said there was no evidence before him to indicate that.
Ramsay said that while the breathalyzer evidence was tossed out by Kozloff, a witness described her as being intoxicated on a level of 8-9 on a scale of 10, and that she needed help to stand immediately after the crash, a half an hour later, and four hours later.
The Crown brought up the breach several times , saying it showed "a certain contempt" for the court's release conditions.
Kozloff's decision is set to be handed down Nov. 12 at 10 a.m. in Ottawa.