What prompted Kenneth Sawatsky to stab his two friends in the neck, as they drove off with him to celebrate a birthday, remains uncertain. But it was suggested in court drugs and alcohol played a part.
The 50-year-old South Bruce Peninsula man pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of attempted murder for the stabbings Dec. 7, 2020, at the intersection of Red Bay Road and Huron Road, just south of Red Bay on the Bruce Peninsula.
He was sentenced in the Ontario Court of Justice, held by teleconference in Owen Sound due to the pandemic, to four years in prison, as recommended by Crown and defence.
Sawatsky “didn’t seem to be himself,” and was talking to himself in the backseat, Grey County Crown attorney Peter Leger told the court, recounting what both victims told police. The friends had just picked up Sawatsky to go celebrate.
As they approached the intersection’s stop sign, Sawatsky “randomly reached forward,” grabbed the driver from behind and plunged the eight-inch blade of a knife into the left side of his neck, Leger said.
The driver struggled to free himself from Sawatsky’s grasp, “cutting all his fingers on his right hand, as the knife was being pulled from his neck . . . then stumbled onto the road.”
Sawatsky then grabbed his friend in the passenger seat from behind and “again started stabbing him in the neck.” Eventually both victims fought Sawatsky on the road in a bid to disarm him.
Several passers-by stopped to help restrain Sawatsky until police arrived.
After both victims were taken by ambulance to Wiarton hospital, the victim who had been driving was flown to a London hospital, while the victim from the passenger seat was driven to London in an ambulance. Both were treated and later released.
Sawatsky himself was severely injured. He had a separated shoulder, some broken ribs and some cuts to his hands from the knife. He said in court he agreed with the facts “as far as I remember them.”
Defence lawyer Jill Gamble told Justice Julia Morneau that Sawatsky’s memory was “impaired” because he’d used crystal meth and had been drinking prior to heading out with his friends.
“He is very confident the Crown can prove their case. He has reviewed the statements in their entirety of the two victims. They are his friends, he accepts what they’re saying would be accurate. He doesn’t feel they would lie about this.”
Sawatsky’s criminal record included drinking and driving convictions in 2016 and 2008, Justice Morneau observed.
Gamble said Sawatsky wants to offer the victims “a very, very sincere apology and wants to somehow, at some point in the future make amends.”
Numerous character references, from his family, friends and a high school principal, indicate Sawatsky is “the kindest, gentlest person so it’s just incredibly unfortunate that he used crystal meth. He doesn’t know why he used did,” Gamble said.
She said alcohol leads him to have poor judgement.
Sawatsky read a prepared statement to the court, while standing in orange prisoners’ garb at the jail, in front of a web camera.
He told Morneau he’s a registered massage therapist and worked as a weather observer providing commercial aviation weather reports for Environment Canada at Wiarton’s airport.
He called his sentence “merciful” and he expressed remorse for hurting his friends and their families and said he wants to take responsibility for his actions.
“I am forever indebted to the paramedics and medical teams for restoring my friends to good health. I will never, ever use drugs or alcohol again,” he said as he stifled his emotions.
He said he’s completed certificates in anger management, substance use, goal-setting, problem-solving, changing habits and understanding feelings. He’s working on “unresolved issues in my past.”
He promised to work on improving himself and rebuilding his life. He said he “slipped” when his father died 13 years ago “and I isolated.”
The sentence, broken down into days, means his 1,460-day prison sentence, reduced by 204 days of enhanced, presentence custody credit, has 1,256 days left to serve. A DNA order and weapons prohibition were also imposed.
He must have no contact with the victims while serving his sentence.