Manitoba

Calgary meth user chuckled in front of officer after fatally hitting teenager: Crown

A Calgary man who was driving high on meth in a stolen truck chuckled in front of an RCMP officer when the cop told him he had killed a teenager 13 hours earlier in a hit and run north of Winnipeg, a Crown attorney told court Wednesday.

Ben Harris, 15, was riding his bike with a friend when stolen truck hit them in 2018

Ben Harris, 15, was riding his bike near his home when he was hit by a stolen truck and killed. (Submitted by Harris family)

A Calgary man who was driving high on meth in a stolen truck chuckled in front of an RCMP officer when the cop told him he had killed a teenager 13 hours earlier in a hit and run north of Winnipeg, a Crown attorney told court Wednesday.

Crown attorney Manoja Moorthy wants Justin Joseph Little to serve a seven-year sentence for the 2018 hit and run that left St. Andrews teenager Ben Harris dead and the 15-year-old's friend injured. The sentence includes time for crimes committed before the crash.

With credit for time already served, Little would spend just under five years behind bars if Judge Sid Lerner accepts Moorthy's recommendation.

Little pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death and several other charges last November.

Several relatives of Harris clutched photos of the 15-year-old boy in their laps in a Winnipeg courtroom Wednesday during the first of three days scheduled for sentencing. At the request of the teen's family, a larger courtroom was provided to accommodate those who knew Harris.

In total, 78 impact statements were filed and 16 were read in court.

Ben's parents, John and Brenda, gave emotional impact statements of their own.

"My life has been changed forever," said Brenda, telling the court she feels an emptiness in her life and has been physically sick, unable to sleep and had to start taking medication since her son's death.

She hasn't returned to work and had to start using her retirement savings to get by, she said.

Brenda and John Harris hold a photo of their son Ben outside the Winnipeg Law Courts last year. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

She also said she is triggered every day when she sees other kids or hears specific songs. Ben, who would have graduated from high school this year, was a talented guitar player.

John said he's consumed with grief and rage.

Beyond the emotional toll, he said the family has also had to deal with the financial impact, which he estimated to be about $150,000, due to lost income and funeral costs. 

"This didn't have to happen. The accused didn't have to steal a car. He didn't have to kill Ben and he didn't have to leave him to die."

A memorial was set up last summer near the collision site. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Ben Harris was biking home with a friend on the evening of Aug. 10 near Highway 9 north of Winnipeg, just minutes away from his house, when he was hit and killed.

The Crown told court Wednesday while Little has pleaded guilty, any credit he gets for the admission needs to be tempered with his actions that night.

Little, who was on his way to Calgary, continued to drive about 61 metres after hitting the boys before he hit the ditch, Moorthy said.

He then went to Harris's friend and talked to him, saying he was going to get his friend and a cellphone. But Little then took off and never returned, leaving the injured boy in the ditch, next to his unconscious friend.

"That's nothing short of being morally despicable, to leave a deceased person on the roadway and a hurt 15-year-old," Moorthy said.

In a prepared statement read by a second Crown attorney, the friend said he still hasn't dealt with all of the emotions from Ben's death.

"I am numb and don't want to deal with it anymore. I still think about it daily and it makes me cry. It does not feel the same without him," the friend said. 

"I have problems thinking and it has affected my school. I will never ride a bike again."

This photo of the crash scene was taken by a passerby. (Submitted by Brent Polson)

When Little was eventually found by RCMP, he taunted an officer with claims of how high he was, challenging the officer to look at the results of his blood test, and claiming to be a good driver while high on meth.

Court previously heard Little had needles in his possession when he was arrested.

He also commented on the quality of meth in Manitoba, Moorthy said.

"He tells that he had one or two points and says, 'No, that's not a lot. You guys have really crappy drugs in Manitoba to be honest with you, and that's probably why you are getting a lot of these incidents. People are going all cuckoo, is the shit that happens. That's just the way it is.'"

Outside the court, John expressed concern about the lack of accountability he feels his family has received from the justice system.

He wants to know why Little was allowed out on bail after Winnipeg police arrested him on July 20, 2018, for stealing a car. 

At the time, Little was the subject of two separate 2016 warrants, from Calgary and Edmonton.

It's not clear if justice officials knew about the Alberta warrants when he was released on bail.

"It would sure be nice if someone could explain to us what happened," said John Harris. "Did something go wrong?"

The defence has yet to make any submissions.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. This past summer, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.