Richard Suter testifies he was once victim of drunk driver
Sentencing hearing continues for man charged in restaurant patio crash that killed toddler
Richard Suter told a packed courtroom Tuesday morning that he has walked with a limp since a drunk driver slammed into his car almost 40 years ago.
Suter, 65, has pleaded guilty to failing to provide a breath sample after he drove his SUV into a restaurant patio and killed a two-year-old boy.
He told court he had never been arrested before the crash in May 2013 that killed Geo Mounsef.
On the stand, Suter talked about the injuries he and his wife suffered in a 1976 car crash. He said a drunk driver ran a red light and smashed into their Volkswagen. The other driver, Suter said, was later fined for impaired driving.
Asked about his own driving history, Suter said: "I think we learned a lesson in the accident we had. I was a very careful driver. I've never driven a car when I've been impaired."
Suter told court his left leg is an inch-and-a-half shorter than his right, and he walks with a limp.
Several witnesses to the May 2013 crash at Ric's Grill in south Edmonton testified that Suter walked unsteadily afterwards, had red eyes and the smell of alcohol on his breath.
He described himself as a "social drinker," but said alcohol has "never been a big part" of his life.
He said in April and May of 2013, he and his wife took a trip to escape the Edmonton winter. They often argued, he said, about his frequent golf games.
"I was in a pretty grumpy mood," he said. "I was drinking more heavily, perhaps."
He said he saw a doctor, who suggested he cut back on his drinking and try to get more exercise. He said he has taken anti-depressants since the car crash four decades ago.
Two days before the crash at Ric's Grill Suter said he went golfing. He had one beer on the course, one at the clubhouse and another in a restaurant afterwards. At some point he twisted his ankle and fell. He decided to leave his car and take a taxi home.
Wife wanted a divorce
On Sunday, May 19, 2013, Suter said he had a drink at home at 3 p.m., then another at 4 p.m.
He and his wife drove to a new Chili's restaurant near their home. There, he drank half of a pint of beer.
When their food arrived, late and cold, they left and headed for Ric's Grill on 23rd Avenue, about a 10-minute drive away.
"As you're leaving Chili's, did you feel impaired by alcohol?" Suter was asked.
"Any concern about being able to drive?"
"Not at all."
When they got to Ric's Grill, Suter said he saw an open parking space and stopped just outside it.
He and his wife were fighting, he said. She told him she wanted a divorce.
"So what happened, I guess, is the car started rolling forward while we were having this tete a tete. She she screamed the car was rolling forward. I turned and looked and we were at the glass patio window. I guess I panicked and I hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. And off we went into the patio."
The SUV stalled after it hit the wall, he said. He put it in park, started the engine again and put it into reverse.
His wife, he said, told him, "be careful, there's a baby under the car."
He said he was pulled from the car, and slapped and kicked several times.
"I didn't put up any resistance. I knew I'd done something terrible."
When police arrived, two officers helped him stand and steadied him while he walked to the curb.
"I was being pulled along, my jeans kept getting pulled down and my butt was hanging out," he said.
Suter was arrested and taken to the police station.
"I was in a mess then. I felt so bad at what had happened. Praying to god for the boy. That he'd be OK."
Thumb cut off
Suter said he finally got a lawyer on phone and was advised not to take a breathalyser test.
"I didn't think the lawyer would be telling me something to do that would be illegal," he said. "I thought it was within my rights not to blow.
"I was so confused by this point. The lawyer had baffled me with legal jargon."
Jason McKen, a legal aid lawyer on duty that weekend, testified after Suter.
He admitted he advised Suter during a seven minute phone call not to give a breath sample.
However he testified today that because of his unfamiliarity with the law, he had given Suter bad advice.
If he knew the law better, McKen told the court, he "would have given him different advice and that advice would have been to blow."
Suter originally faced several impaired driving charges but has since pleaded guilty to one charge, for failing to provide a breath sample.
On the night of Jan. 22, 2015, Suter said he and his wife were in bed when the doorbell rang about 11 p.m. He saw three men standing outside with swat uniforms. They said they were police officers.
Suter said when he opened the door, they put him in handcuffs and put him in a truck with a canvas bag over his head.
On Ellerslie Road, he said, he was taken out of the truck and forced to kneel in the snow. Suter said his thumb was cut off with pruning sheers.
He passed out. When he regained consciousness, the men were gone. Suter said he flagged down a car and eventually an ambulance came for him.
"My thumb was never found," he said. "It was taken for some reason."
Suter said he and his family have lived in fear since the crash.
As the morning court session concluded, he apologized to Geo Mounsef's family, even though most of the members had already left the courtroom.
"I'm very sorry that this happened," he said. "I will always mourn the loss of your son. I will always be terribly sorry for what I did that night.
"I was not impaired. I made a terrible driving error that had a tragic outcome. Please forgive me. This will affect me for the rest of my life."
But outside of court, Geo Mounsef's mother Sage Morin was unforgiving.
"His apology to me means nothing," she told reporters. "It's empty words. So I wasn't interested in subjecting myself to that. I heard enough this morning."