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Marco Muzzo denied parole: a deep dive into the board's decision

Marco Muzzo, right, leaves the Newmarket courthouse surrounded by family, on February 4, 2016 after being sentenced to 10 years after pleading guilty in a drunk driving crash that killed three young children and their grandfather. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

The Parole Board of Canada has issued its written statement on denying Marco Muzzo’s parole, saying he lacks insight into his drinking habits and the risk they pose to others.

Muzzo was convicted in the 2015 Vaughan crash that left three children and their grandfather dead.

The victims were nine-year-old Daniel Neville-Lake, his five-year-old brother Harrison, their two-year-old sister Milly and the children’s 65-year-old grandfather, Gary Neville. The children’s grandmother and great-grandmother were also seriously injured.

His parole hearing was held in early November at the Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst where he is being held as a minimum security offender.

The board says Muzzo sabotaged his progress by severely underestimating his issues with alcohol.

In the lengthy statement, the board provides in depth details about Muzzo’s actions and behaviour before and after the fatal crash, his previous record and reasons for denying parole.

Timeline leading to the crash

  • Muzzo was in Miami with a group of friends for his bachelor party. He describes the trip as a subdued affair with dinner, days by the pool and drinking in the hotel bar.
  • Muzzo admitted to drinking till 3 a.m. the night before returning to Canada. He described drinking the most he has ever had in his life, but maintained he was aware and in control.
  • On the morning of Sept. 27, 2015, Muzzo said he was groggy and had a headache, likely due to drinking and lack of sleep. He boarded an early bus to Miami airport and returned to Toronto by a private charter plane.
  • On the plane he decided to have one caesar on the “spur of the moment”, which then lead to a few more. He says he is unsure of the total number, but consumed no more than four of the alcoholic drinks.
  • Muzzo has previously said he decided to drive home from the airport as he did not feel impaired. He did not consider alternates like a cab or asking someone to pick him up.
  • At the parole hearing he admitted knowing he was not entirely sober, but decided to “take a chance” because he was confident he could drive. He also admitted he should have known better.
  • While driving home, Muzzo says he remembers the windows were open and music was playing. He said he was “daydreaming” just prior to the crash.
  • Muzzo admitted he was speeding and blew through a stop sign before the “T-bone” collision.

Crash and aftermath

  • Muzzo says he immediately knew the crash was serious. He stayed on scene and ran to the van to check on the victims.
  • Witnesses described Muzzo as glossy eyed and under the influence of alcohol. The first police officer on scene also described him as unsteady on his feet, holding on to other people for balance and having difficulty comprehending directions. The officer also said he smelled alcohol on Muzzo’s breath and that he had urinated himself.
  • He provided two breath samples 20 minutes apart. The first reading was 192 milligrams and the second was 204 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood, well beyond the legal limit of 80 milligrams.
  • Muzzo was arrested for impaired operation of a motor vehicle and his charges were later upgraded to impaired driving causing death.

Previous record and history with alcohol

  • Muzzo has no previous criminal record but does have traffic violations dating back to 2003.
  • He has been found guilty of speeding on 10 separate occasions and two other unidentified driving infractions. Muzzo says one of those infractions was using a cellphone while driving.
  • Muzzo said that he tends to drive 20 kilometres per hour over the posted speed limit as a matter of habit. On many of his speeding offences, the actual speed on the tickets was reduced, often to the point where he did not incur demerit points. He said the minimal fines for speeding did not change his driving behaviour.
  • He describes himself as a fairly conservative and responsible drinker, saying he drinks socially. He said he consumes six to eight glasses of wine per week with meals, in the company of family, friends or business associates.
  • At the parole hearing however, the board heard that Muzzo tended to drink to excess and “get wasted” on his birthdays. He admitted to being significantly drunk on more than 10 occasions and said he was embarrassed and regretted his behaviour while impaired.
  • Muzzo has admitted to drinking and driving in the past but the board felt he “minimized the seriousness of the offending” by saying he only did it “a small handful of times.”
  • Muzzo told the board he would need to have eight or nine drinks before he considered himself too impaired to drive. When pressed, he changed his response, saying that number of drinks would leave him “wasted.”
  • In 2012, Muzzo was charged with being intoxicated in a public place after an altercation at a nightclub in Vaughan. When Muzzo and a friend were denied entry into the club because of their “level of intoxication,” they began fighting with the bouncers and threatened their lives. When he was arrested by police, the board says he was belligerent and tried to kick out the back windows of the police car several times. The nightclub staff did not press criminal charges but Muzzo was held in police custody till someone could take charge of him.
    The incident did not come to light during his court proceedings and was not brought to the attention of Muzzo’s case management team until weeks before his parole hearing.
  • Muzzo’s responses to the Computerized Assessment for Substance Abuse (CASA) suggest he underestimated the seriousness of his alcohol issue and the report concluded he would benefit from a low intensity substance abuse program.
  • The board says that throughout the hearing, Muzzo remained insistent that he was not an addict. While he accepts that alcohol was a key factor in the crash, he continued to “minimize the severity by indicating that many of (his) behaviours and responses were the result of shock as much as they were due to alcohol consumption.”

Current psychological state

  • The board says that Muzzo’s current correctional plan rates his accountability, motivation and potential for reintegration as high and he is considered to be “engaged” in his correctional plan.
  • Muzzo has participated in a number of voluntary programs through the chapel and reports suggest he recognizes that there is a problem with his choices, decisions and the consequences that follow.
  • In addition, the board said that reports indicate Muzzo is very aware of the impact of his actions and feels personally responsible for the offence he committed.
  • He is suffering from moderate symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and mild anxiety and depression, all related to the crash and his subsequent incarceration.
  • Muzzo also sought psychological counselling while in jail. He was found to be in satisfactory mental health, using “positive coping skills” to manage his emotions about the crash.

 

Board’s decision

  • In its written sentence, the board repeatedly says Muzzo does not recognize the extent and severity of his alcohol problem and, by his own admission, does not know his triggers or risk factors. It also says while he may not be addicted to alcohol, his “continued rigidity and lack of insight as to what that definition may mean has prevented (him) from recognizing that an actual problem exists.”
    They added: “Your contention (even at this late date), that you believe eight or nine drinks would be required to make you impaired, speaks volume in this regard.”
  • The board says Muzzo intentionally failed to disclose information about his 2012 arrest in an attempt to present himself as a “modest and responsible drinker who had simply made a terrible mistake on the day of the fatal collision.”
    “In reality, you were simply impeding the progress you might have otherwise made.”
  • The board said it would have liked to see Muzzo complete a program designed to address substance misuse or abuse. In addition they wanted to see “some evidence of interventions” for his PTSD because without any help in that regard, they are unclear of how he will deal with the reality of what he has done when he is released back into the community.
    They added that it was necessary for such programs to be completed while in jail “in light of the severity of the offending and (his) ongoing lack of insight,” before considering day or full parole.

 

“During the hearing, for the first time since you were arrested, you outlined a significant history of binge drinking and this, coupled with your lack of understanding on the issue of impairment, leads the board to conclude your risk remains undue,” the board said.

The Neville-Lake family has said it questions Muzzo’s remorse in light of his statements and the fact that he sought parole at the first opportunity.

With a file from The Canadian Press