Driver who was high on meth in fatal crash pleads guilty
WINNIPEG –A Calgary, Alta. man has pleaded guilty to four charges in connection to a deadly hit-and-run crash that happened more than a year ago while he was high on methamphetamine, a Winnipeg courtroom heard Wednesday.
The small courtroom, overflowing with friends and family of the victim, heard on Aug.10, 2018 a stolen vehicle driven by Justin Joseph Little – who was 29 at the time – veered off the road and struck and killed Ben Harris, 15, and hurt his friend who were both on bicycles on the side of Donald Rd. near Highway 9 in the R.M. of St. Andrews.
Outside court, John and Brenda Harris remembered Ben’s passion for music and playing guitar.
"The first and the most important thing is that Ben was a great man and this isn't what he was about,” said John. “Ben was a great guy."
Little pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm and two counts of failing to stop at the scene of an accident where a person was injured.
11 other charges – including manslaughter and charges for several less serious offences – were stayed.
"Now we're left wondering how so many charges could've been stayed,” said John. "I'm concerned about the message this sends to Ben's high school-aged friends, you know the message it sends about impaired driving – the consequences, the implications and the penalties."
Court heard the RCMP was called to the area where the collision occurred around 11:40 p.m. after receiving a report of an erratic driver.
An officer noticed a 2009 GMC Canyon, a vehicle that had been reported stolen two days earlier in Winnipeg, had gone off the road, passed through the ditch and came to rest in a yard.
An officer located two boys at the scene: Harris's friend was hurt, on the phone with 911 and survived; Harris had serious injuries and showed no signs of life.
RCMP tracked a suspect, who a witness saw leave the scene, to a nearby yard.
Court heard officers found Little hiding in a parked vehicle, where he was placed under arrest. Police noted he appeared high on drugs – his face pale and sweaty and eyes bloodshot.
“Needles were found on Mr. Little at the time of his arrest," said Crown attorney Manoja Moorthy. "In a statement to police the next day he admitted that he used the needles on Aug.10 to shoot meth.”
A report by RCMP Forensic Sciences and Identification Services concluded this past February Little had methamphetamine in his blood at the time of the crash.
The substance involved, not a significant concern for the Harris's.
The family wants to know why Little – who was disqualified from driving at the time of the crash and was wanted on two outstanding warrants for charges in Calgary and Edmonton from 2016 – was free to be on the road in the first place.
Little also pleaded guilty Wednesday to unrelated charges of mischief and theft of a motor vehicle stemming from incidents in June and July of 2018 near Winnipeg and had been released from custody on those charges about three weeks prior to hitting and killing Harris.
"We've been waiting over a year to have our questions answered with regard to how the accused was released,” said John.
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in an emailed statement, senior staff from Manitoba Justice have met with the Harris family.
Cullen said once legal proceedings have concluded, he'd be glad to meet with the family.
Little will find out his punishment following a sentencing hearing scheduled for three days in February in Selkirk.
The maximum penalty for impaired driving causing death is life in prison.