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Driver that left Regina 7-year-old critically injured changes plea to guilty

Benjamin Dufour was seriously injured while waiting for the school bus in June 2022. The driver responsible for Dufour's injuries pleaded guilty on Monday. (Submitted by the Dufour family - image credit)
Benjamin Dufour was seriously injured while waiting for the school bus in June 2022. The driver responsible for Dufour's injuries pleaded guilty on Monday. (Submitted by the Dufour family - image credit)

A Regina man who critically injured a seven-year-old boy while driving changed his plea to guilty after previously pleading not guilty.

Howard Raycraft, 48, sat in a Regina courtroom Monday morning and entered the new plea to impaired driving causing bodily harm.

On Tuesday, the judge accepted the Crown and defence's joint sentencing submission, sentencing Raycraft to two years less a day in jail and a three-year driving prohibition.

On June 21, 2022, seven-year-old Ben Dufour was waiting for the school bus at 8:30 a.m. CST when Raycraft struck him.

Crown prosecutor Ryan Snyder told the court Raycraft was speeding through residential areas of northwest Regina and disobeying traffic laws, eventually reaching 75 kilometres an hour and striking multiple vehicles, fences and eventually a house.

Ben was with his older brother and their classmates at the bus stop and Snyder said they "likely never saw it coming."

Ben's injuries were significant. He was rushed to hospital and eventually airlifted to the Jim Pattison Children's Hospital in Saskatoon. His injuries included a skull fracture, spinal contusion, broken pelvis and ribs, a broken leg and a broken arm.

Howard Raycraft, 48, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing bodily harm on Monday in Regina.
Howard Raycraft, 48, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing bodily harm on Monday in Regina.

Howard Raycraft, 48, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing bodily harm on Monday in Regina. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

On Monday, court heard four victim impact statements, including from Ben's mother and grandmother.

Each described the horror of learning about the crash, dealing with the fear of not knowing if Ben would survive and the hours in the hospital in Saskatoon.

"Imagine running down the street and leaving your youngest alone in the house. Running as fast as you can to see what has happened. You see people huddled around your precious boy laying on the ground. His backpack and glasses have been ripped off his little body. He is laying there, blood on his face and head, his little legs and arms in directions that are not normal. He is crying, but not awake," Ben's mother Cassi Dufour said.

"Now imagine having this image engraved in your mind and it's what you see when you close your eyes to sleep, which is something you won't do for a long time."

Officers were on the scene of a crash Tuesday morning on the 200 block of Dalgleish Dr. in the northwest part of the city.
Officers were on the scene of a crash Tuesday morning on the 200 block of Dalgleish Dr. in the northwest part of the city.

Ben Dufour was hit while waiting for the school bus on the 200 block of Dalgleish Drive in the northwest part of the city. (Regina Police Service/Twitter)

Two weeks after Ben was hit, the family released a statement describing his miraculous recovery to that point.

On Monday, court heard about a young sports fanatic who is back playing football, but struggling with not being able to perform at the same level that he used to.

"Playing sports was a happy place for him, and he was a confident boy in that space. Today, he struggles to play sports. Because of the shattered femur, he does not run well. Because of the broken arm, he does not catch or throw a football well," his grandmother Luanne Synk said.

Synk talked about the fear of hearing he could have effects from his brain injury for the rest of his life.

"It's unbearable. We feel so helpless."

Ben's mother and grandmother discussed the guilt his older brother felt about being present at the accident and the separation anxiety his younger sister has from being away from her parents while they stayed with Benjamin in the hospital.

Both spoke of the ongoing mental and emotional trauma of reliving the event and its long-lasting effects.

"This trauma will stay with us forever. These memories do not go away. The pictures in our minds of the things we saw and experienced are forever with us," Dufour said.

'I am very sorry' 

Raycraft's decision to change his plea to guilty avoided a trial. On Monday, Crown prosecutor Snyder and Raycraft's lawyer Nick Brown entered a joint sentencing submission of two years less a day in jail and a three-year driving prohibition.

Snyder told the court Raycraft had three different prescription drugs in his system following his arrest on the day of the crash. He said none of the prescriptions were Raycraft's.

On Monday afternoon, Brown said Raycraft was a father of six and a grandfather of six. Brown said Raycraft had taken pills in a suicide attempt the night before the crash, but survived. In the morning, he decided to drive himself to work.

Brown said Raycraft was "immediately remorseful" upon learning what happened to Benjamin Dufour.

Judge Noah Evanchuk asked Raycraft if he had anything to say to the court.

"If I realized, I never would have done it and I would have called in sick. I am very sorry."

Evanchuk announced his decision to accept the joint submission on Tuesday.