The mother of three-year-old Kaden Young, the Grand River toddler who drowned after she drove around a barrier on a washed-out road in February 2018, has been given a sentence to be served in the community.
Superior Court Justice Gisele Miller sentenced 38-year-old Michelle Hanson to a two-year conditional sentence, one-year probation and a three-year driving prohibition that will take effect upon the completion of the conditional sentence. The judge agreed with a joint submission by the Crown and Defence.
Hanson pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death in November 2021, three-and-a-half years after the tragedy that gripped the community of Grand Valley, west of Orangeville.
According to the facts, on Feb. 21, 2018, shortly after midnight, Michelle Hanson took her three-year-old son who was having trouble sleeping for a drive into Grand Valley. She was heading to a variety store. She drove around a road closure barrier and into a flooded section of the roadway.
The portion of the road was completely submerged. There was heavy flooding and the river had a strong current. Hanson’s vehicle was swept into the Grand River.
The unseasonably warm temperatures created a heavy fog. Visibility was poor but the barrier should have been visible. Kaden was in his car seat at the time the vehicle was swept into the river.
Hanson was able to escape and get Kaden out of his car set, but she lost her grip on Kaden and he was swept down the river.
Hanson was rescued and taken to hospital where she was treated for hypothermia.
Her blood was obtained and later seized by police. An analysis by the Centre of Forensic Sciences found that she had a projected 60 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood in her system. That reading is in the warning range but according to law, not considered legally impaired.
The only active drug in her blood was oxycodone “in a therapeutic range,” according to the facts.
After nearly eight weeks of searching along the banks and in the frigid water of the Grand River, including coordinated searches by hundreds of volunteers who lived in the area, Kaden’s body was found under a bridge in Belwood, approximately 13 kilometres from where he disappeared.
His cause of death was drowning.
Four victim impact statements were submitted at sentencing including one written by Crown Attorney Danielle Garbaty, on behalf of Cameron Young, Kaden’s father. Young explained how every day has been a struggle since Kaden disappeared and said he experiences terrible flashbacks and images of Kaden’s lifeless body. He has also developed anxiety and depression as a result of Kaden’s death.
Madam Justice Miller called the fact that Hanson pleaded guilty a mitigating circumstance, even though it came years after charges were laid.
“Michelle Hanson should be given credit for a plea of guilty and sparing those close to Kaden of having to go through a trial. I understand it took her quite some time but she has done so,” noting that Hanson is already seeking counselling and is a first-time offender.
The 38-year-old who now lives in Newfoundland will have to serve the first 18 months of her conditional sentence under house arrest, except to leave her home for employment, to seek in-person counselling, and once a week for four hours to obtain “the necessities of life.”
During the last week months of the conditional sentence, Hanson will be subject to a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
She will also be required to attend grief and substance abuse counselling.
Hanson’s lawyer Hal Mattson said the most significant thing in this case is that his client admitted guilt.
“Her long-term goal is to be able to see her other child, a six-year-old, and the only way that’s going to happen is if she stays sober.”
During the virtual court hearing, Hanson told the court that she is required to submit regular urine tests, in order to one day see that child.
“She has punished herself for her reckless actions and no doubt will continue to punish herself for the rest of his life,” said Justice Miller, explaining that the sentence sends a message of general deterrence. The judge told Hanson she hopes she gets the help she need to rehabilitate herself.
The Crown withdrew the only outstanding charge, impaired driving causing death.
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