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Natsis sentenced to five years in prison

By Andrew Seymour, Postmedia Network

Pembroke dentist Christy Natsis (centre) arrives at the Elgin St. courthouse in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. Natsis, who was involved in a fatal traffic collision in 2011 near Arnprior, was sentenced to five years in prison.

Pembroke dentist Christy Natsis (centre) arrives at the Elgin St. courthouse in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. Natsis, who was involved in a fatal traffic collision in 2011 near Arnprior, was sentenced to five years in prison.

OTTAWA - 

Christy Natsis spent her final 50 minutes of freedom in a courtroom on the lower level of the Ottawa courthouse listening to a judge tell her why she deserved a five-year prison sentence for driving drunk and killing someone.

The Pembroke dentist struck and killed Bryan Casey on Hwy. 17 near Arnprior on March 31, 2011. The father of three was on his way home from work when Natsis's Ford Expedition sport-utility crossed the centre line of the two-lane highway and slammed head-on into Casey's pickup truck as he attempted to move out of the way.

“No sentence that I impose can undo the tragic consequences of this collision or compensate for the loss of the life of Bryan Casey,” said Ontario Court Justice Neil Kozloff as he sentenced the 51-year-old to the penitentiary for impaired and dangerous driving causing death.

Natsis sat quietly as the judge delivered his sentence. Her emotions only showed after it was over, when she hugged and kissed supporters while waiting for police. She was eventually taken into a small room for processing; when she emerged, her hands were cuffed behind her back.

Natsis will be eligible for full parole after serving one-third of her sentence. Her lawyer, Michael Edelson, declined to comment on whether she planned to appeal either the verdict or the sentence.

In addition to the prison sentence, Natsis received an additional 40 days for violating conditions of her bail. Police watched as she purchased two bottles of vodka from an LCBO just seven months after the deadly collision.

The judge also imposed a four-year driving suspension, effective Thursday. The prohibition took into account the more than four years since the crash that she spent under conditions not to drive.

Casey's widow, LeeEllen Carroll, said she did not want to be consumed by anger or bitterness.

"I pray sense is made of the sentence and hope it serves to prevent tragedies like this from shattering the lives of others," she said, before adding she is now committed to ensuring "our children have the future they would have had, had their father not been stolen from them."

Casey's father, Gus, said the family was relieved the trial — which began almost three years ago to the day of Natsis's sentencing — was finally over.

In sentencing Natsis, the judge highlighted the terrible toll that impaired driving takes on Canadian society as well as the trend toward increasing sentences for those who choose to drink and drive because of society's abhorrence for the often tragic outcomes.

Natsis explained that she turned to alcohol to numb her pain, particularly in relation to her then rocky marriage.

At the time of the collision, her blood-alcohol level was nearly 2 1/2 times the legal limit to drive, although those readings were tossed from evidence after the judge found provincial police violated her constitutional rights. Given her level of impairment, Kozloff said he suspected that Natsis had much more than the just two glasses of wine the trial heard evidence about. Casey too had been drinking, but the judge said he took efforts to avoid the collision.

Natsis told a probation officer that the collision was the impetus she needed to forever give up alcohol, although the judge suspected it was more likely the result of being caught violating her release conditions.

"If she sticks to her guns and never drinks again, it is very unlikely she will ever reoffend," said Kozloff.

Kozloff also acknowledged Natsis's remorse, which he said he had "absolutely no doubt" was genuine after receiving 100 letters from supporters and hearing Natsis herself express her deep sorrow, regret and shame for her actions. Prior to the collision, the mother of two was a dedicated volunteer and fundraiser for the Pembroke Regional Hospital Foundation. As a dentist, Natsis treated those on social assistance and special needs children and adults, Kozloff said.

But Kozloff said he couldn't ignore Natsis's reckless driving after drinking and had to impose a sentence that would deter others from causing similar "catastrophic" consequences.

aseymour@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/andrew_seymour