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Impaired driver gets prison sentence for crash that killed woman

Devastated family of victim says sentence for Edmonton man in fatal drunk driving crash not enough.
stock-Courthouse DR13
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

An impaired driver convicted in a head-on collision in Sturgeon County that killed a woman and injured a child was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday.

Justice R.P. Belzil sentenced James Dean Novosel, 38, of Edmonton, to a concurrent five-year sentence with credit for time served, and a driving prohibition of 10 years at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton on June 24.

Novosel pleaded guilty to one count of impaired driving causing death, and one count of impaired driving causing bodily harm at the time of sentencing. 

Novosel had a blood alcohol level over five times the legal limit on the night of the crash, court heard.

On Sept. 12, 2021, at about 12:38 a.m. Morinville RCMP responded to a two-vehicle head-on collision at the intersection of Highway 28 and Sturgeon Road, according to the agreed statement of facts.

Novosel was driving a silver pickup truck headed northbound on a southbound lane at a speed of around 140 km/h in a posted 70 km/h location when he struck Rhonda Nelson, 47, in her Jeep Grand Cherokee head-on.

When police arrived on scene, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was in the middle of the highway, court heard.

Police located a nine-year-old child (whose name is protected by a publication ban) in the back seat. The child was airlifted to the hospital and suffered numerous injuries, including a fractured pelvis and clavicle, bruising of the lungs, and a small brain hemorrhage.

Police removed Nelson from the vehicle and attempted CPR, but she died from her injuries a few minutes later.

Novosel’s vehicle was located in a ditch, and he was the sole occupant of the vehicle.

Police noticed a strong scent of alcohol when they removed Novosel from the vehicle and found two empty vodka bottles, both a 60-ounce and a 26-ounce, in the cab of the pick-up truck, court heard.

Police obtained a search warrant and were able to get a sample of Novosel’s blood at 2:03 a.m. Novosel’s blood contained between 428-486 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, more than five times the legal limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood.

Novosel had a previous criminal record from 2007 for driving impaired, court heard.

Novosel appeared emotional and grabbed tissue while five victim impact statements were read by the Crown prosecutor. Friends and family wrote about Nelson's kind and selfless nature.

Nelson was a mother of two and a grandmother of two. She was a youth crisis worker who was planning on becoming an addictions counselor.

Nelson’s daughter-in-law said they would see Nelson around three to five times a week for dinner.

Son, Travis de Gans, said he was devastated Nelson was in a crash 30 minutes after she had left his home.

Defence counsel described Novosel as a hard-working individual and read letters of reference to the court in his defence.

The court heard Novosel struggled with alcoholism and had attended rehab for the disease a few months prior.

It was noted, Novosel was seeking help for mental health and addiction issues while he was in the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre, and he felt remorse for his actions.

Novosel also addressed the court and spoke about what alcoholism had taken from him, including the life of someone he had never met.

“Words can’t say what my heart feels … there’s nothing more I want to do than turn back time …” he said.

Novosel apologized for his actions.

Belzil addressed the family and said he wanted them to understand the court appreciates the tragedy of the situation, as by all accounts Nelson was a fine person.

“I say to you, I do hope you get some measure of closure,” Belzil said.

Aggravating factors included the “astonishing blood alcohol level,” the erratic driving pattern for 15 kilometres, the “grossly excessive speed,” as well as the prior conviction, and the fact Novosel is a mature offender, and his level of personal responsibility is very high, court heard.

Mitigating factors included the early guilty plea, the genuine remorse, and steps Novosel is now taking.

Belzil told Novosel he was not being punished for his alcoholism, rather he was being punished for driving a motor vehicle while impaired.

Belzil said our society now recognizes impaired driving is an ongoing crisis and everyone is at risk.

“Rhonda would have had no idea this was coming,” he said.

After court had concluded, de Gans, told The Gazette he respects that Novosel is remorseful and trying to be a better person, but he should have received a heavier sentence.

“I'm sure there's programs out there that you can call and someone will come and pick you up and not even charge you, so I don't think there's any excuse to why somebody should ever be killed by impaired driving,” he said.

“I don't think there's ever going to be closure when you lose your mother,” said de Gans.