Jesse David Taylor told a packed courtroom in Moose Jaw, Sask., this week that he wished it had been him that died, not his closest friends.
His defence lawyer, Merv Nidesh, read the written statement after Taylor pleaded guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level over .08 causing the deaths of three young men — all young fathers — and causing bodily harm to another.
"It's gut-wrenching," Nidesh said.
Nidesh, who has practised law for 40 years, calls it one of the most emotional case he's ever handled.
"I have done thousands of court cases. I'm in court almost on a daily basis. This is one of the most tragic cases that I've ever experienced," Nidesh told CBC.
"To have these young people, who are such close friends and should have everything before them, lose their lives. It's really difficult for everybody."
On the night of Sept. 15, 2013, Taylor was driving a company truck loaded with five passengers — most of them his co-workers — on Highway 2 south of Moose Jaw.
The vehicle rolled several times down an embankment, killing Jason Friesen and Joshua Patterson of Moose Jaw, and Justin Kowalski of Mossbank.
Friesen, 24, was a married father with two young sons.
Kowalski, 24, had a baby daughter.
Patterson, 24, was a journeyman pipe fitter with a young daughter. In his obituary, his family requested memorial donations to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD)
Cody Johnson, who survived the accident and spent three months in a coma, says the victims weren't wearing seatbelts. He flew through the front windshield and landed 30 metres away.
Support for young driver
Since regaining consciousness, Johnson has defended the driver, insisting that all of the victims were drinking, had driven drunk in the past, and any one of them could have been behind the wheel that particular night.
Johnson and the uninjured passenger, as well as the family of one of the deceased, submitted letters of support for Taylor during the sentencing arguments on Tuesday.
After Taylor's guilty plea, the Crown and defence made a joint submission for a total prison sentence of four years as well as a five-year driving ban.
If accepted by the judge, Taylor, who hasn't served any time behind bars, would be eligible for day parole in less than a year.
Lawyers defend 4-year sentence proposal
The lawyers were making their submission at the same time an Ontario judge handed down a 10-year prison sentence to drunk driver Marco Muzzo for speeding through a stop sign and killing three children and their grandfather.
"It's a far different set of circumstances," Crown prosecutor Curtis Wiebe said.
In this case, Taylor and his buddies were drinking together and it was a single-vehicle roll over.
"They're victims, and I don't want to ever give the impression that they're responsible for this," Wiebe said, referring to the deceased young men, while arguing that a four-year prison sentence would be in line with the increasingly harsh penalties for drunk drivers.
Taylor's lawyer says the young father is spending as much time with his family as possible in anticipation of going to prison.
The sentencing is April 12.