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Mother sentenced for ATV crash that killed 6-year-old daughter

Keisha Renee Herrell, 27, of Esgenoôpetitj First Nation was sentenced Wednesday in Miramichi on a charge of criminal negligence causing the death of her six-year-old daughter in 2020.  (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
Keisha Renee Herrell, 27, of Esgenoôpetitj First Nation was sentenced Wednesday in Miramichi on a charge of criminal negligence causing the death of her six-year-old daughter in 2020. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

A judge on Wednesday said the sentencing of a mother whose driving led to the death of her six-year-old daughter should serve as a warning to others.

Court of King's Bench Justice Fred Ferguson made the comments as he sentenced Keisha Renee Herrell, 27, on Wednesday in Miramichi.

Herrell pleaded guilty last year to a charge of criminal negligence causing the death of Leighton "Jemma" Barnaby while driving an all-terrain vehicle in Tabusintac on Nov. 30, 2020.

"Ms. Herrell has to pay the price of being convicted of criminal negligence causing death so that others in the community will get a message that you just can't carry on like this and not expect that there will be criminal sanctions that will follow behaviour like this," Ferguson said.

He sentenced Herrell to a two-year conditional sentence order followed by a year of probation.

Leighton “Jemma” Barnaby, 6, died Dec. 2, 2020.
Leighton “Jemma” Barnaby, 6, died Dec. 2, 2020.

Leighton “Jemma” Barnaby, six, died Dec. 2, 2020. (Bell’s Funeral Home)

The order, commonly known as house arrest, comes with various restrictions and terms that if violated, Ferguson warned could result in her spending the remaining time in jail.

The sentence had been jointly recommended by Crown prosecutor Jeremy Erickson and Herrell's defence lawyer, Alison Ménard. Ferguson ruled Wednesday it was an appropriate sentence in the circumstances of the case, particularly given Herrell's guilty plea.

The judge imposed a driving prohibition for three years as part of the sentence.

Urged to use loss to change life 

The judge said no sentence the court could issue would compare to the loss of a child.

As he issued his decision, Herrell sat in the front row of the public gallery wiping away tears.

She told the judge what happened will always be on her mind.

The judge said her daughter's memory should serve as motivation to improve her life by avoiding drugs, finishing her education and avoiding people who cause problems.

"If you need any driver to make you get to where you need to be in the rest of your life, your driver is Jemma," Ferguson said.

Herrell, of Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, pleaded guilty to the charge in September.

In arguments filed ahead of sentencing, the lawyers said the sentence is in line with other cases where there is lower moral culpability in the crime.

Criminal negligence is a charge that involves a person doing something that shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives and safety of other people. It carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

An agreed statement of facts presented to the judge when Herrell pleaded guilty lays out what led to Barnaby's death.

It says Herrell was on an all-terrain vehicle on Nov. 30, 2020, with her daughter sitting in front of her. A  nine-year-old child, who cannot be named because of a publication ban, sat behind Herrell.

That older child told police Herrell asked Jemma if she wanted to drive. Although her daughter said she didn't want to, Herrell made her drive anyway.

Herrell then gave one of the children a phone to record them driving.

The nine-year-old told police that Herrell then took control of the ATV and went "insanely" fast. The statement says the ATV hit a tree or something else and tipped over.

Barnaby's head was under the ATV, and she called out to the older child for help. She tried to lift the ATV but couldn't and then ran for help.

The agreed facts say the video has the sound of Herrell waking up minutes after the crash and starting to scream.

Herrell's daughter was taken to hospital and later airlifted to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, where she died of her injuries Dec. 2, 2020.

The statement of facts says Barnaby was wearing a white helmet, but it appeared to be a bicycle helmet, and that the incident and aftermath were recorded on video.