Calgary meth user sentenced to 6 years for impaired driving causing death of Manitoba teen

By | April 28, 2020

A Calgary meth user is sentenced to six years in prison for driving impaired and hitting and killing a St. Andrews, Man., teenager who was riding his bike in 2018.

Justin Joseph Little pleaded guilty in November to several charges including impaired driving causing death, operating a motor vehicle causing harm, operating a stolen vehicle, and two counts of failing to stop where a person has been injured.

The hit and run killed 15-year-old Ben Harris and left another teen injured. Little was charged with 14 offences upon his arrest.

He also pleaded guilty in provincial court to mischief under $5,000 for an unrelated break and enter in June 2018 in Stonewall, Man.

On Tuesday Judge Sid Lerner sentenced Little to six years in prison, minus time already served since his arrest.

The Crown requested a seven-year sentence while the defence argued Little should serve 4½ years. Both recommendations would include time for crimes committed before the crash.

Harris was biking home with a friend near Highway 9 north of Winnipeg on the evening of Aug. 10, just two minutes away from his home, when he was hit and killed. Harris’s friend, with whom he’d planned a sleepover, also was hit and thrown into the ditch but lived.

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

The Crown previously told the court a Selkirk RCMP constable found Little hiding in another stolen car, sweating, with bloodshot eyes and a pale face.

He had taken off after hitting the teens and ran barefoot to hide, triggering a brief hunt that involved multiple RCMP officers and a helicopter.

But a retired RCMP officer spotted a man with dark clothes on foot on Highway 9 and reported the sighting to the constable, who was originally investigating a report of an erratic driver that came into 911 at 11:40 p.m.

The Selkirk Mountie who discovered Little found needles on him and a blood test later confirmed amphetamines were in his system, court heard. He admitted to police the next day that he shot meth with needles on the day of the crash.

Wrong message: dad

Harris was a talented guitar player, with many friends at Selkirk’s high school. Court heard he was left with no sign of life after the crash.

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

Ben’s dad, John Harris, had been vocal in his frustrations with the justice system before sentencing and previously told reporters he was disappointed several charges, including manslaughter and six breaches of bail conditions, were stayed.

He has said he has little faith in the justice system and took issue with an announcement last year by Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen about tougher penalties for impaired drivers. He said a day after the announcement, the Crown informed him many of the charges against Little were being stayed.

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

The Harris family has questioned why Little was out on bail at the time of the crash and has struggled to navigate the justice system.

Court previously heard Little stole an Acura in July 2018. He smashed the window of another car, causing about $500 in damage, and took a garage opener out of it to gain access to the Acura, which was parked in a garage.

Winnipeg police arrested him on July 20 when officers spotted him leaning on the stolen car. He was arrested and then later released on bail.

He was the subject of two separate 2016 warrants at the time, from Calgary and Edmonton. It has never been made clear in court why Little was released while he had two warrants out for his arrest.

Alberta court records obtained by CBC News in 2018 said Little, then 29, had many run-ins with police in Calgary and its neighbouring communities. His Alberta crimes included convictions for drugs, violence and being in possession of two stolen vehicles.

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