Author awaits fate on DUI guilty pleas
A celebrated native author and former television personality who went on “a binge” and was busted three times for drunk driving in a two-week span last year will have to wait at least a few more days to learn his fate.
Richard Wagamese, who also goes by the name Richard Gilkinson, pleaded guilty to three impaired-driving charges and two counts of failure to appear in court.
He was in court on Monday, Oct. 3, for sentencing submissions.
The Crown is asking for a jail sentence in the range of 11 months, while defence wants to see a sentence to be served in the community.
The three drunk-driving incidents occurred within a two-week period in March 2010.
The first happened at about 11 a.m. on March 1, 2010, when Wagamese drove his pickup truck off the road near the Kamloops Fire Rescue station on Valleyview Drive and ended up in a ditch.
Court heard police officers responding to the scene noted a “strong odour of cologne” and slurred speech on the 55-year-old, who told investigators he’d had a beer for breakfast.
He was taken to Royal Inland Hospital for X-rays following the crash and RCMP made a blood demand. Tests showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.223 — nearly three times the legal limit of .08.
Five days later, on March 6, 2010, Mounties responded to a truck in the ditch off Paul Lake Road at about 7 a.m.
The officer first to arrive at the scene said he found Wagamese “in a sleeping stupor behind the wheel” of the truck in the ditch.
Police found two open vodka bottles in the truck’s cab, along with other coolers and alcoholic beverages.
Crown prosecutor Chris Balison said the officer made a breath demand to Wagamese.
“The officer was questioned [by Wagamese] if he recognized the accused as a writer and being on TV previously,” he said.
“He [Wagamese] tried to profess his innocence to the officer, essentially exchanging information in order to make the charges go away.”
Wagamese was arrested and provided two breath samples, both well over three times the legal limit — 0.300 and 0.280.
Wagamese was caught driving drunk again on March 15, 2010, this time in Calgary, where he was found passed out behind the wheel of his truck — still in gear — at a downtown intersection.
His blood-alcohol level following that arrest was measured at 0.321 and 0.315.
The two charges of failing to appear in court stem from court appearances in April and May of 2010 on the Calgary file.
Balison described Wagamese as being “on a binge” at the time of the offences.
Court heard Wagamese has more than 50 criminal convictions on his record, including three previous sentences for drunk driving.
The other convictions are mainly for property-related offences and breaches of court orders.
Defence lawyer Michelle Stanford said Wagamese was in a “dissociative state” for a number of weeks around the time of the three impaired-driving instances, and when he found out about the court appearances he failed to show up for.
“He has no recollection [of driving drunk],” she said.
“He was unaware that he had those court dates he had to appear at.”
Stanford also said Wagamese “is a different person” when he’s in a dissociative state.
Wagamese, who had nine supporters filling the first two rows of seating on one side of Courtroom 2D in the Kamloops Law Courts building, also addressed the court in an attempt to shed some light on his background.
He spoke for 20 minutes about his childhood, growing up in Ontario, and the circumstances in his life which led him to drink.
He said he was adopted by residential-school survivors and was physically abused from an early age.
In May, Stanford entered guilty pleas on Wagamese’s behalf. At the same hearing, she said Wagamese would like to receive an aboriginal “circle sentencing.”
That request was abandoned prior to Monday’s hearing.
Wagamese is the former host of the CFJC-TV7 series One Native Life, and is considered one of Canada’s foremost aboriginal authors and journalists, with a career spanning 30 years.
He has published several books, including the award-winning novels Keeper ‘n Me, Dream Wheels and Ragged Company.
Last summer, he was recognized with an honourary doctorate from Thompson Rivers University.
Last November, Wagame wrote a letter to the editor of Kamloops This Week, questioning reporting on his case and stating his name is “Googled more than 500 times a day.”
Wagamese is slated to return to court on Thursday, Oct. 6, to find out when he will be sentenced.