TRURO - Save for some very quiet weeping by a young woman in a wheel chair, the courtroom was silent as the black-robed judge prepared to speak.
"I want you to stand up please," provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer said, to the man sitting to his right in the seat saved for the accused.
Wearing jail-issued clothes, a blue T-shirt, sweat pants and soft-soled, laceless shoes, Ryan Harvey McLellan, 26, stood quietly in Truro court last week before the judge and waited.
"In the letter you had Ms. Snow read," Zimmer said, regarding McLellan's Legal Aid lawyer Amber Snow, "you made reference to the fact that 'I'm always thinking about you' in relation to Ms. Grue. 'I'm always thinking about you.'
"What we're you thinking about Ms. Grue on Aug. 31 when you were taking a truck from Bass River and driving through Truro with the police following you with the lights and sirens on, running stop signs and red lights, knowing that you were likely impaired? What did you think of Ms. Grue at that time?"
"Ms. Grue is always hanging in my head all the time," McLellan responded meekly. "When I was driving that truck I was scared to death what would happen to me."
The response was precisely what the judge had been driving at - the fact that a few short months after striking down Holly Grue in the early morning hours of Jan.1, while driving impaired, she was far from his thoughts as he sped through town on yet another drinking and driving spree. The incident has left Grue paralyzed for life.
"You weren't thinking about Ms. Grue when you were running away from the police driving that truck?" the judge repeated.
"No not at the moment your honour," McLellan said.
"I didn't think so," Zimmer replied, during a hearing in which McLellan had been scheduled to be sentenced on charges of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and fleeing the scene of an accident. The charges resulted from a Jan. 1 incident in which he had struck down Holly Grue, a 22-year-old woman walking down the road to her car after leaving a New Year's Eve dance in Economy.
"The accident has affected me and my family," Grue, now 23, had said a few minutes earlier while reading her victim impact statement in the courtroom. "I'm suffering from a broken back, severed spinal cord, which means I'm paralyzed from the waist down and having to spend my life in a wheelchair."
Her submission was followed by a letter read out loud by McLellan's lawyer expressing his remorse for the incident.
"'It is because of me that you will be in the chair for the rest of your life,'" Snow said, on McLellan's behalf. "'I owe you my life plus more. I cry every day for what I have done to you and your life. I'm always thinking of you and I always will until the day I die. I am so sorry."
In addition to the charges stemming from the hit and run involving Grue, however, McLellan has also pled guilty to other charges, including refusing the breathalyzer and breaching curfew, after leading police on a chase through Truro streets in the early hours of Aug. 31.
After stealing a truck in Bass River, the impaired McLellan was driving through Truro when a police officer noticed the vehicle did not have a license plate. When the officer activated his emergency lights and siren McLellan sped away, running numerous stop signs and red traffic lights in the process.
As his speed increased, however, the officer shut off his emergency lights and backed off. Shortly after, McLellan was spotted in another area of town and when approached by the police again, he got out of the truck and fled on foot.
"So when we look at expressions of remorse, I would respectfully submit that words spoken by an accused individual hold little weight when we evaluate the actions of the accused individual," Crown Attorney Alison Brown said.
In the first incident, in which McLellan essentially left Grue on the road to die, he admitted to having consumed 15 beers in less than 12 hours. Court also heard that McLellan has not possessed a driver's license since 2009 and that the Jeep he was driving when he struck Grue, which belonged to someone else, was un-inspected and subsequently deemed not road worthy.
McLellan also acknowledged in his pre-sentence report that he had been drinking on his birthday in March, despite being under court orders not to consume alcohol, following the Grue accident.
"So some two months after he strikes down and paralyses a woman, he consumes 12 beer to celebrate his birthday," Brown said.
And then came his impaired driving spree in Aug, she said, which simply provided further evidence of a behaviour pattern that needs to be addressed to show to McLellan specifically and others generally that such actions will not be tolerated.
"What steps has he taken since that incident (towards rehabilitation)?" Brown asked. "The pre-sentence report indicates he took absolutely no steps."
The Crown has asked for a sentence of between four and five years in prison. McLellan's lawyer has suggested it be in the area of two years federal time.
Zimmer is scheduled to deliver his decision on Thursday. Sentencing had initially been set for Tuesday but a conflict in the judge's schedule resulted in the change.