8 months in jail for Highway 3 crime spree

In a day, a crime duo travelled 466 km in three stolen vehicles under the influence of hard drugs

A woman was handed eight more months in jail for her part in a crime spree along Highway 3 between Cranbrook and Osoyoos. (File photo)

A young woman will face nearly eight more months in jail for her part in a crime spree in the South Okanagan-Boundary area, with a Penticton judge’s ruling going beyond even the Crown’s recommendations.

Michelle Mercier was facing charges on nine violations, ranging from robbery to breach of bail for a spree that mostly took place in mid-December last year with her then-boyfriend Dillan Cote.

Related: Man with ‘horrendous’ record sent back to jail

The spree began with a Dec. 13 $60 theft at the Cranbrook Superstore. The next day, a woman reportedly picked the pair up near Cranbrook, where they were hitchhiking, and allowed them to stay at her place.

But when she woke up at around 4 a.m. to let her dog out, she noticed her car was missing. Searching inside, she found a note that said “Sorry,” while the pair was missing with her keys.

About four hours later, police were called to a collision near Christina Lake, where a car, identified as the vehicle stolen from Cranbrook, crossed over the centre line, and then off the road.

Police were told the pair had been given a ride toward Rock Creek by a passerby who offered to help.

But when that passerby stopped for gas in Rock Creek, his vehicle was stolen by the pair, who drove toward Osoyoos.

Near Osoyoos, that vehicle was spotted driving erratically, making dangerous passes on Highway 3, and ultimately wound up down an embankment after attempting to cut a woman off.

That woman, who was driving with her three children, aged six to 12, said she stopped to make sure the occupants of the vehicle were alright. The man, later identified as Cote, asked if she was calling the police, which she said she was.

He asked if he could speak to the police as well, and when she handed him her phone, he threw it away and demanded she exit her vehicle. He then pulled her out of the vehicle and allowed the three children to leave peacefully.

That vehicle was found at the South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver, making a total of 466 kilometres travelled from Cranbrook in stolen vehicles.

(Story continues below.)

Police arrived to an Oliver property where the pair were believed to be staying. Due to firearms potentially possessed by Cote, RCMP called in an emergency response team, which entered a “prolonged negotiation” of about 10 hours.

By 2 a.m., police sent chemical deterrents into the travel trailer the pair were believed to occupy, and the two were arrested upon their exit from the trailer.

Though Crown lawyer Andrew Vandersluys noted Mercier had expressed interest in continuing a relationship with Cote, the defence noted a change of heart and positive changes in her life.

Vandersluys said Mercier was exposed to alcoholism and domestic violence in her early years, and has had issues with substance abuse herself, forming an addiction to crack cocaine and amphetamines.

In fact, the crime spree in question was the result of Mercier being “under (Cote’s) thumb and certainly under the influence of the drug that she was taking,” according to Cheema. But since attending an Indigenous healing centre Cheema said Mercier has been doing “quite well.”

Vandersluys called for 202 to 217 days in jail, minus 66 days for enhanced credit of time served, while Cheema called for a conditional sentence with no time in jail for all counts, save for robbery, for which a conditional sentence is not a legal option.

Vandersluys pointed to the severe nature of the crime, which was perpetrated on Good Samaritans offering help to people they believed to be in danger. Conversely, Cheema pointed to Mercier’s positive changes, including taking on two jobs since the offences.

But in an uncommon move, Judge Gregory Koturbash handed Mercier a sentence more severe than even the Crown’s recommendation, giving her 300 days, minus 66 days of credit.

“Given the violent nature of these offences, the fact that you were addicted to drugs generates little compassion in my eyes. There are drug addicts who don’t commit crimes at all; there are addicts who commit property-related offences,” Koturbash said.

“Your actions place a chilling effect on other people who might think about stepping up and acting as Good Samaritans, especially when people are stranded at the side of the highway.”

Mercier is also on the hook for about $27,000 in damages from ICBC, $60 toward Superstore and $700 in victim surcharge fees.

Cote, considered the primary actor in the offences, was handed a four-year sentence in July, with two years left to serve on another, unrelated offence.


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dustin.godfrey@pentictonwesternnews.com

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