News

'It doesn't bring him back'

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

The mother of a Simcoe man killed in a 2016 car crash found little solace Tuesday in the penitentiary sentence given to the car's driver.

Jacob Hoag, also of Simcoe, was sentenced in Ontario Court to five years in the death of his best friend, 21-year-old Derek Butler.

"It doesn't bring him back," Butler's mother, Stephanie, said after the sentencing.

"I can only hope people learn from this mistake. Don't drink and drive because it's not worth it."

On May 24, 2016, Hoag, who was 19 at the time, was at the wheel of his sister's car with Butler in the passenger seat. Both men had been drinking.

At about 3 a.m., Hoag missed a sharp left curve on Highway 53, west of Burford. He swerved back and forth, losing control of the car and the Ford Focus left the road, colliding with a tree and bursting into flames.

Hoag was found in a distraught state by a neighbour who ran out to help and heard Hoag say he had killed his best friend.

The burning car's doors had buckled and jammed. The neighbour got a crowbar and was able to smash the front window but the vehicle was filled with smoke and he couldn't see inside.

When the Brant OPP arrived, they had to restrain a distraught and screaming Hoag from going back to the burning vehicle.

"Arrest me now and charge me with manslaughter," Hoag told the police.

While Hoag had scrapes and small burns, it was determined that Butler died of multiple trauma injuries and smoke inhalation.

Hoag's blood-alcohol readings were estimated to be between 130 and 190 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80 milligrams.

Hoag pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death in June and, earlier this month, turned to apologize to the Butler family, thanking them for showing him forgiveness.

"I pray to God every day to give strength to all the people affected by my terrible decision," he said at that time.

Justice Robert Gee said a five-year sentence is warranted despite Hoag's remorse, the forgiveness of Butler's family and the post-traumatic stress disorder Hoag has suffered since the accident.

A group of friends who have been following the case said they feel five years is too harsh.

"A lot of us feel it was too much time," said one young woman about the sentence. "No matter how many years they take off Jake's life, it's not going to bring Derek back. It's not going to stop people from drinking and driving."

"It's like breaking someone who's already broken," said another supporter.

Stephanie Butler said she understands the judge wanted to make an example of Hoag.

"I know that if he had gotten two years less a day (a non-penitentiary term), he would be out in five to seven months and that wouldn't be enough," she said.

"This was a catastrophe: his best friend died in this stupid accident because they both decided to drink and drive and a short time isn't enough to heal from that."

Butler said she hopes Hoag will access to rehabilitation programs to help "make him whole again.

"That's what I would want for my son."

Butler's sister, Tia Butler, said people continue to drink and drive despite the fallout from Derek's death.

"I hear people talking about drinking and driving all the time - people who know me and know what happened. When you say something, they're like, 'What? No! That won't happen to me!' But we didn't think it would happen to us either."

Other friends said Butler's death continues to have an impact.

"We live it all over again. It's been a year and a half and it never ends."

Hoag, who hasn't been allowed to drive a car since the accident, was credited with having served three days in jail.

He will serve his time at the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene.

SGamble@postmedia.com

@EXPSGamble

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