Danille’s family, friends bring grief to the stand

Danille Kerpan

Danille Kerpan

By Joel van der Veen

SASKATOON — One after the other, their statements told the story.

Her parents, partner, siblings, other relatives and friends — 15 in total — took the stand in a Saskatoon courtroom on Tuesday to share their memories of Danille Kerpan, and the void left in their lives by her sudden death.

Kerpan, 25, was killed instantly in a collision on Highway 11 on Oct. 10, 2014, when her vehicle was struck by a northbound truck in the wrong lane near Bladworth.

The man driving that truck — John Koch, 50 — was later found to have a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit.

Koch, who had entered a guilty plea on Jan. 7, was sentenced Tuesday to a four-year prison term, followed by a seven-year prohibition from driving.

In his victim impact statement, Danille’s father Allan — a former MP and MLA — said his past public speaking had not prepared him for the speech he had to make in court that day.

He said his words were not sufficient to illustrate the pain he has felt since he and his wife were awakened by a police officer, delivering the news of their daughter’s death.

Despite being complimented for his strength, Allan said, “The truth is I am not strong at all. I have to almost clinically remove myself from the situation in order to function.”

He spoke of the harsh reality of having to write a cheque for his daughter’s memorial service instead of her wedding, or of knowing he would never walk her down the aisle or hold her babies.

Melanie Kerpan spoke of the guilt she has felt in recalling the night her daughter died. Earlier that day, she had travelled to Saskatoon, had supper with her daughters and then went shopping for paint with Danille.

“If she hadn’t stayed with me in Saskatoon, she might still be here,” said Melanie, also describing the pain of having to tell her other children about the collision.

“Being a mom to Danille and her siblings is the best gift I’ve ever been given,” she said in her conclusion, “and even death can’t take that away.”

A statement read on behalf of Danille’s partner, Rylan Dezotell, described the future the two had planned together, and the devastating impact her death has had on him. He wrote about how they had purchased, renovated and furnished their home.

“Together we had picked out an engagement ring,” he wrote. “That was by far the happiest day of my life — and returning it was the worst . . . especially when they asked why I was returning it.”

Koch also read an apology letter to the family, in which he spoke of his enduring guilt: “Because of me, your daughter was taken from you. I wish it was me instead.”

While the Crown and defence agreed on a four-year prison sentence, the Crown argued for a 10-year driving prohibition. Judge Sanjeev Anand agreed on an extended prohibition, imposing a seven-year ban.

Allan Kerpan said the experience of the sentencing had brought back the level of grief he had experienced in the aftermath of Danille’s death. In the words of his son Josh, he said, he felt as though he had “regressed.”

He also said he was proud of Danille’s relatives and friends for agreeing to make their statements. The day was an exhausting experience for himself and his family, he said, but they were encouraged by the results.

Kerpan said he and Melanie are continuing discussions with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) about potential projects, including a large-scale provincial memorial or smaller roadside memorials at accident sites.

He also said the extended driving prohibition — which was twice the average penalty — was a positive sign that attitudes are changing.

“It looks like they’re going to start to take it a little more seriously,” said Allan. “I think people are starting to say ‘enough’s enough’.”

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