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Man admits to impaired driving

Keith Andrew MacDonald, 24, pleaded guilty in a Bonnyville courtroom last Thursday to impaired driving. He was handed a $1,500 fine and has lost his license for one year.
Taylor Brundige
Taylor Brundige

Keith Andrew MacDonald, 24, pleaded guilty in a Bonnyville courtroom last Thursday to impaired driving. He was handed a $1,500 fine and has lost his license for one year. All other charges against MacDonald, including impaired driving causing death were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea.

MacDonald was charged following a motor vehicle accident that killed Bonnyville teen Taylor Theresa Brundige, 15, on Nov. 27, 2010. Taylor was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her sister, Leslie, who was a designated driver following a party that night. After driving three other people home, Leslie and Taylor were on their way home when MacDonald's truck collided with them.

His father, as well as his lawyer, Brian Beresh, accompanied MacDonald. MacDonald did not address the court.

Taylor's mother, father, grandmother and sister also attended the court date.

Beresh and Crown prosecutor, Jeff Rudiak, presented a joint submission where MacDonald pleaded guilty to driving impaired but not to impaired driving causing death. Judge Higgerty dropped the latter charge.

Though this came as a shock to many in the courtroom, Taylor's family said they were informed prior to the court date.

“We knew yesterday (Dec. 12), Jeff Rudiak had asked that we phone him so he could give us the heads up. We expected it…We knew (MacDonald) wouldn't be charged with Taylor's death, we knew that ahead of time. They have to prove 99 per cent that he caused the accident and we knew that the evidence wasn't there. We were still hoping,” said Taylor's mother, Tammy, following court.

“They could not prove that he caused the accident. Being impaired doesn't mean that he caused the accident and Taylor's death. In our mind it does. And that's the difficult thing is because we've had to wrap our head around the grey area, legally.”

Higgerty insisted on reading the victim impact statements from Taylor's parents, younger brother and sister Leslie despite both the crown and defense stating it wasn't necessary given the fact that the charge of impaired driving causing death had been dropped.

“I appreciate the guilty plea at this time,” but feel it is still necessary to read these statements before moving forward, in order to see the other side of the story, explained Higgerty to the court.

“I think the individuals who have been affected by this incident should be heard,” he said.

“I do not want these individuals leaving this court case saying justice was not in the matter,” said Higgerty, who then recessed the courtroom to read the statements privately.

When court reconvened, Higgerty said there simply wasn't enough evidence to charge MacDonald with impaired driving causing death.

“This is a very, very difficult matter… what I can assure you is that Mr. Rudiak is a senior prosecutor and he is second to none for duty to the law and the public,” he said, adding that it has not been an easy decision for Rudiak to put forth the joint submission or for himself to accept it.

He said it is important to keep emotions at bay when dealing with the law.

“Having read the statements, it doesn't mean they don't strike at my heart as a parent. This is a tough situation,” Higgerty said before making his final decision to accept the joint submission on the guilty of impaired driving and dropping all other charges. After doing so, he recessed court again because he said he had to “put himself together” before proceeding with the next case on the docket.

Before recessing, Higgerty addressed Taylor's family.

“I wish you can try your best to accept what has happened and my wish for you is that you can find a degree of peace for Taylor and not allow anger to lead your lives,” he said.

“You can't hate somebody for it, it won't change anything,” Leslie said after court. “I'm just glad it's done in court so we don't have to be reminded of it all the time. That's just a huge lift off our shoulders that's been weighing us down for two years.”

“To me, if he was never drunk he never would have swerved towards me and I would have never tried to swerve out of the way. … he wouldn't have been swerving if he wasn't drunk or even if he was just tired, but he wasn't all there. And then I never would have swerved to get out of his way.”

Still, she said she understood the evidence was not there to prove MacDonald caused her sister's death.

“I mean, who do you have for witnesses? Him, well he was drunk. His passenger was passed out. My sister is dead, so it's not like you can ask her. And me, but that's my word against his. There's no actual hard proof.”

Leslie said she is happier just to have the case over.

“Even if they couldn't find the evidence to put him at fault, they didn't put anyone at fault and I'm okay with that. It's nice for it to be done. The judge made it clear that he did everything he could and because there wasn't enough evidence he did as much as he could.”

Leslie said the best way to mourn someone's death is by being positive.

“I think the only way to get over someone dying is to just be positive, keep your head up high and not hate somebody. Because we've seen people at MADD (Mother's Against Drunk Driving) conferences and stuff that if you go on hating someone for the rest of your life it takes over your life and you'll never find peace. But you can learn to accept it and part of it is forgiving. It lets you accept what happened. It will never be the same and it still pisses me off, there's no doubt about that.”

As for Tammy, she said she is not sure if she and her husband, Al, will ever be completely at peace with what happened to Taylor.

“Will Al and I ever find peace with what happened? Probably not. This was our child. But we have Leslie and we have a 10-year-old son at home that we have to set an example for. And that's exactly what Taylor would want,” she said. “We've had to rebuild our family. Our whole life was built on a family of five.”

In court, Beresh said though MacDonald admits to being drunk on Nov. 27, he also noted there is no evidence that alcohol caused Taylor's death.

“This is a tragic event and this young man has lived with this for two years,” said Beresh on MacDonald's behalf.

Tammy said the hardest part in her two years filled with court dates and dockets has been hearing how everything is about MacDonald and not about her daughter or her death.

“You're sitting there and they're talking about how his parents do this and how he does this and he's never been in any trouble and part of you just wants to end it. But my daughter was 15, who was an honour role student. What about her? She wanted to be a vet and already had her university picked out. Who's there to hear her? That's the part I don't like about this. She is a name in the court. She is a number on a docket.”

Though some parts of the court system have bothered Tammy and Leslie, they said they are glad the case is over and happy with how things played out in court. Neither hold grudges against MacDonald.

“He made a bad choice,” said Tammy, stating there have been severe consequences both her family and MacDonald will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

“It definitely haunts you for the rest of your life. It's not something I would wish on anybody. I even feel bad for the driver that he was in that position because I know that I open my eyes and I can taste the airbag still in my mouth and I can still smell that smell, sometimes I'm just driving and I can smell it all of a sudden and it really shakes you up or I see my sister lying there again like I did that night,” said Leslie.

“It has to hit him some way, you're not a human being if it doesn't. How he lets it affect him shows how he is as a person. And that's up to him,” said Tammy.

Tammy said they wouldn't be so positive if it wasn't for all their community support and help from emergency services and RCMP.

“The police did such a good job. They did everything legally and humanly possible,” she said.

“The judge showed us respect too. He showed a lot of respect to my sister, which I think was going out of his way and a nice thing to do,” said Leslie.

MacDonald, who was 22 at the time of the accident, is originally from Halifax but now lives and works locally. In fact, Tammy and Leslie say they see him and his passenger that night from time to time at work and in the community.