By Delon Shurtz
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A southern Alberta woman who was drunk when the vehicle she was driving went off the road, killing her cousin, has been sent to a federal penitentiary.
Jayleen Spotted Eagle of Glenwood was sentenced Oct. 16 in Lethbridge court of justice to two years in prison for impaired driving causing death.
“There’s no question that what we’re dealing with is a tragedy,” Justice Gregory Maxwell said moments before sending the 21-year-old woman to prison.
“I would say in every respect of the word it’s a tragedy. It’s obviously tragic consequences for Miss Spotted Eagle’s cousin, but it’s also tragic for her.”
Spotted Eagle pleaded guilty April 11 of this year to one count of impaired driving causing death, and on Oct. 16 the Crown and defence jointly recommended a two-year sentence.
At about 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2022 Cardston RCMP responded to a single-vehicle rollover on Highway 505 near Township Road 44, west of Hill Spring.
The SUV was travelling east on the highway and failed to make a turn, causing it to leave the road and roll.
The passenger, 25-year-old Ty Chief Moon of Levern, was thrown from the vehicle and died. Spotted Eagle was treated at hospital and later released.
“It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances,” Crown Prosecutor Michael Fox acknowledged, noting that Spotted Eagle’s blood-alcohol level was more than double the legal limit, and Chief Moon was not wearing a seatbelt and may have been hanging out the window when the vehicle careened off the road.
“The speed and her blood alcohol level obviously would be aggravating aspects of this; temper that with the circumstances of a young woman with no criminal record, the fact that she entered a guilty plea, the tremendous remorse that she experienced at the time.
“It was undoubtedly profound remorse and sincere in every aspect.”
Although Spotted Eagle pleaded guilty more than six months ago, sentencing was adjourned to allow time for the preparation of a Gladue report. A Gladue report applies certain principles which are used by judges to consider the unique circumstances and experiences of Indigenous people. Those unique circumstances include the challenges of colonization that continue to affect Indigenous people today.
The challenges, called Gladue factors, include racism, loss of language, removal from land, residential schools, and foster care.
“Obviously it’s always perplexing when we have an individual, a young person growing up in a home with domestic violence that’s so prolific, and substance abuse is so prolific, that they actually become desensitized to the domestic violence,” Fox said.
“It’s hard to understand what kind of total impact that has on an individual’s psyche. Being exposed to substance at an early age is not surprising.”
Fox said the case law in such matters calls for prison sentences ranging between three and six years depending on the circumstances. In this case, however, he suggested a suitable sentence would be two years.
Calgary lawyer Robin McIntyre agreed with the sentence, and pointed out the Gladue report prepared for Spotted Eagle speaks to abuse, addiction, residential schools, grief and loss, mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse, family breakdown and separation from her culture and heritage.
“Ultimately we’ve got a young, female, indigenous individual before the court with significant applicable Gladue factors, and those specific factors have played a part in bringing Miss Spotted Eagle before the court,” McIntyre said.
She said Spotted Eagle is remorseful and prepared to take responsibility for her actions.
In addition to her prison sentence, Spotted Eagle will be prohibited from driving for three years after she is released from custody.