Edmonton pot entrepreneur who killed three while stunt driving sentenced to nine years in prison

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Edmonton pot entrepreneur who killed three while stunt driving sentenced to nine years in prison

Publishing date:

Jan 14, 2022  •  4 hours ago  •  4 minute read  •  7 Comments

An Audi crashed into a Starbucks cafe on Calgary Trail near 53 Avenue killing three occupants on July 3, 2020.
An Audi crashed into a Starbucks cafe on Calgary Trail near 53 Avenue killing three occupants on July 3, 2020. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia, file

A one-time Edmonton marijuana entrepreneur who killed three people while stunt driving after an evening at a Whyte Avenue nightclub has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

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Oscar Benjumea, 27, learned his fate Friday after hearing dozens of victim impact statements from friends and family of the three passengers who died when his car slammed into a Calgary Trail Starbucks on July 3, 2020.

Benjumea pleaded guilty last May to three counts of dangerous driving causing death and a single count of failing to remain at the scene of an accident. The victims were 20-year-old Emma MacArthur, 21-year-old Georgia Donovan, and Faisal Yousef, 32.

An entrepreneur of Colombian extraction, Benjumea had recently come to Edmonton from Ontario after investing in a small chain of marijuana stores. He drove an Audi RS5 with an Ontario vanity plate that read “DR GREEN.”

At the time of the crash, he was under a one-year driving prohibition for failing to provide a breath sample during a 2018 impaired driving stop.

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Benjumea and Yousef spent the evening of July 2, 2020, hopping between bars and restaurants in downtown Edmonton, eventually heading to Spotlight Cabaret on Whyte Avenue. They sat on the patio and ordered double Old Fashioneds and fish tacos. The rest of the evening was spent mingling and buying drinks for other patrons. Eventually, they settled at a table with MacArthur and Donovan, who before that evening were total strangers.

When last call came after 2 a.m., Benjumea and Yousef split the tab, which included 20 shots of tequila and the two Old Fashioneds.

Family and friends attended a vigil for three victims killed after a vehicle crashed into a Starbucks along Calgary Trail on July 3, 2020.
Family and friends attended a vigil for three victims killed after a vehicle crashed into a Starbucks along Calgary Trail on July 3, 2020. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia, file

The four set off in Benjumea’s car, with Yousef in the passenger’s seat and the two women in the back seat. Benjumea drove southbound on 104 Street, eventually merging onto Calgary Trail.

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Witnesses who saw Benjumea’s vehicle minutes before the crash said it was travelling erratically in and out of its lane. One described “random bursts of speed,” followed by aggressive braking. Another motorist said the Audi caused his vehicle to shake as it sped past. Another remembered telling a store clerk at the 58 Avenue Shell station “the guys are driving crazy tonight,” seconds before hearing an explosion.

Benjumea lost control of the vehicle at the bend in the road at 53 Avenue. According to a computer in the car’s airbag system, the vehicle reached speeds of 186 km/h before Benjumea applied the brakes. The car hit a curb and slid across a grassy area before striking a second curb which caused it to become airborne. It struck the empty Starbucks building in a vertical position, tearing off the passenger-side roof. Yousef and MacArthur were both thrown from the vehicle and killed instantly. Donovan remained in her seat but died on scene.

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The first bystander to arrive on scene helped Benjumea from the shattered car. He asked the man to help him undo his belt so he could urinate, then asked if he had a gun and begged him to shoot him. Benjumea later wandered off, eventually making it to his home in southwest Edmonton, where police arrested him early that afternoon.

Dino Bottos, the defence lawyer for Oscar Benjumea, speaks outside the courthouse on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, after Benjumea was sentenced in the 2020 crash on Calgary Trail that killed three of his passengers.
Dino Bottos, the defence lawyer for Oscar Benjumea, speaks outside the courthouse on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, after Benjumea was sentenced in the 2020 crash on Calgary Trail that killed three of his passengers. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

‘Morally reprehensible’

Dangerous driving causing death carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Defence lawyer Dino Bottos argued for five to seven years, saying his client deserved credit for the remorse evidenced by his guilty plea.

The Crown, represented by Sony Singh Ahluwalia and Kate Andress, asked for 13 years, saying a lengthy prison term was needed to denounce and deter Benjumea’s crimes.

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Justice Peter Michalyshyn settled on seven-and-a-half years for the three dangerous driving counts and 18 months for leaving the scene. Over the course of several days beginning last October, he heard 63 victim impact statements from the victim’s loved ones.

Michalyshyn noted that while alcohol was part of Benjumea’s evening before the crash, there was “no evidence” he was impaired. Hospital staff withdrew multiple vials of blood from Benjumea shortly after his arrest but were unable to obtain a sample with enough alcohol to extrapolate his level of impairment at the time of the crash.

Michalyshyn ultimately discounted the defence theory that a head injury explained Benjumea’s bizarre behaviour and “contradictory” statements after the crash, concluding that he had “at least a partial memory of the events.”

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He called Benjumea’s decision to leave the scene “morally reprehensible,” but said there was “no evidence that any more immediate assistance on his part could have helped the victims, or even provided comfort to them.”

He added that Benjumea’s driving record — which in addition to the suspension included demerits for stunt driving and speeding — was an aggravating factor that argued for a longer sentence.

Michalyshyn also noted that Benjumea’s cannabis stores have since closed, partly as a result of an “apparent boycott campaign” stemming from his role in the collision.

Benjumea has accrued about two-and-a-half years of credit in time served, including about 100 days of enhanced credit for 22-hour COVID lockups while in remand.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

An Audi crashed into a Starbucks cafe on Calgary Trail near 53 Avenue, killing three occupants on July 3, 2020. Shaughn Butts / Postmedia
An Audi crashed into a Starbucks cafe on Calgary Trail near 53 Avenue, killing three occupants on July 3, 2020. Shaughn Butts / Postmedia
Faisa Yousef, sister of Faisal Yousef, speaks to media in Edmonton on July 4, 2020.
Faisa Yousef, sister of Faisal Yousef, speaks to media in Edmonton on July 4, 2020. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia
Memorials for the three victims killed when Oscar Benjumea crashed his car into a Calgary Trail Starbucks on July 3, 2020. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia
Memorials for the three victims killed when Oscar Benjumea crashed his car into a Calgary Trail Starbucks on July 3, 2020. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia
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