Drunk driver who crashed into Sarnia park for shy dogs bailed on taxi moments earlier

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An impaired driver who crashed into the portion of a Sarnia off-leash park dedicated for small, shy and senior dogs could have avoided the costly incident if he stayed in the cab his friends called for him that night, a judge said Tuesday.

“You have very good friends who tried to help you make a safe choice,” Justice Deborah Austin said to Matthew Esser. “Your poor judgment clouded by excessive consumption of alcohol – your stubbornness – is the reason why you’re in the predicament that you’re in here.”

The court heard Esser drank for several hours on Dec. 7 at a friend’s house on Sycamore Drive. A taxi was sent to the address around 1 a.m. to take him home, but Esser argued with his friends about the need to take a cab.

He finally relented and climbed aboard.

“However, as soon as his friends returned to the residence, he exited the cab and proceeded to enter his motor vehicle and attempt to drive home,” assistant Crown attorney Aniko Coughlan said while reading the facts to the court.

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Esser drove north on Sycamore Drive – a residential area – at about 80 kilometres per hour with the vehicle’s lights turned off. The car jumped the curb at Sycamore Drive and Bright Street – just 600 metres from his friend’s house – and crashed into a fenced area of German Park dedicated for dogs.

“The fence was destroyed,” Coughlan said. “In striking the curb, Mr. Esser’s vehicle began to leak oil all over the ground, rendering the dog park completely unusable.”

The Sarnia off-leash dog park in German Park was closed in December after an impaired driver crashed through a gate into the facility. Handout/Sarnia Observer/Postmedia Network
The Sarnia off-leash dog park in German Park was closed in December after an impaired driver crashed through a gate into the facility. Handout/Sarnia Observer/Postmedia Network Supplied

The cab driver saw the incident and called police. Esser was still sitting in the driver’s seat of the crashed car when officers arrived.

They arrested him and took him to headquarters in Sarnia for testing, which showed he had around 290 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, more than three times the legal limit.

“Which is certainly very concerning,” Coughlan said.

Esser pleaded guilty Tuesday to impaired driving over an online video conference.

“You posed a significant risk,” Austin said. “It is fortunate that only property damage occurred as a result of this incident.”

The judge imposed a $2,300 fine – $200 less than what the Crown asked for, but tacked on a $690 victim-fine surcharge – and banned him from driving for one year.

“It is no small financial penalty,” Austin said.

Coughlan, who met privately with Esser prior to his plea, said “it appears” he previously met with Sarnia city officials and reached an agreement on paying restitution for repairs to the park. Austin gave him credit for dealing with the city before pleading guilty.

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A top Sarnia city official did not immediately respond Tuesday to questions about how much the repairs cost or if the money has been paid.

The park reopened Dec. 17 for large dogs, but the section for small, shy and senior pets remained closed until Dec. 28 due to damage caused to the fence separating the two sides, according to Facebook posts.

The incident marked Esser’s first criminal conviction.

“This is a first time and, hopefully, a last time before the criminal courts,” Austin said to him.

Two other charges of being over the legal limit within two hours of driving and mischief over $5,000 were withdrawn.

@ObserverTerry

tbridge@postmedia.com

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