Ruff ride: Drunk driver who wipes out dog park $3,000 in fines

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The dog park at Germain Park was ripped up by a drunk driver.

Alex Kurial/ Local Journalism Initiative

A Sarnia man appeared in court to answer for his destruction of a dog park.

Matthew Esser, 28, had been drinking with friends at a Sycamore Dr. house when he attempted to leave after midnight. His friends, thinking better of the idea, called him a cab to bring him home.

This upset Esser, but he climbed into the cab. As soon as his friends went back inside, Esser hopped out of the taxi and hurried over to his vehicle to take off.

Esser accelerated to 80 km/h in the residential area, but wouldn’t get very far. He went north on Sycamore but failed to make the turn at the intersection with Bright St. Instead Esser jumped the curb, smashed through a fence and tore through the Germain Dog Park. 

When Esser’s vehicle hit the curb it caused a significant oil leak which spread all over the dog park before he finally stopped. The dog park couldn’t be used during the cleanup.

The taxi driver whose cab Esser had bolted from stayed to observe the scene and called Sarnia Police. They arrived and arrested Esser before taking him back to the police station where he blew a .290 reading on the breath test, nearly three times the legal alcohol limit in his body..  

“Despite his friends trying to resolve that situation by calling him a cab, he went ahead and drove his motor vehicle anyway, which was certainly a very dangerous situation for him and anyone else who might have been using the roadway. And as we heard certainly there was damage to the park,” said Crown Attorney Aniko Coughlan

The Crown asked for a $2,500 fine and one year driving ban. Esser has already resolved the damage to the park with the city. 

“It is obvious, and I’m sure it doesn’t escape you, that you have very good friends who tried to help you make a safe choice,” says Justice Deborah Austin. “Your poor judgement, clouded by excessive consumption of alcohol and your stubbornness, is the reason why you’re in the predicament that you’re in here and suffering these consequences.”

“You posed a significant risk to yourself… and as a member of the community it is fortunate that only property damage occurred as a result of this incident,” she says.

Austin factored in Esser’s lack of criminal record, his early guilty plea, and the fact he’d already made amends for the damage as reasons for lowering his fine to $2,300. With a victim fine surcharge of $690, Esser will still pay just short of $3,000 as punishment. He received the one year driving ban, but can apply for the ignition interlock program after three months. 

Alex Kurial is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter and is part of a nation-wide program to develop local journalism across Canada paid by the federal government.