NANAIMO — A six-year prison sentence was handed down to the man at the centre of a high-profile and chaotic fatal hit-and-run trial in Nanaimo.
Dustin Dennis Zinter, 41, learned his fate from the Honourable Justice Robin Baird in BC Supreme Court in Nanaimo Friday morning. Zinter's sentence, to be served in a federal prison, follows his conviction of dangerous driving causing death, failing to remain at the scene of an accident and failing to provide a breath sample.
Zinter is also banned from driving in Canada until October 2027. Time served already behind bars will remove 161 days from Zinter's six-year sentence.
Court heard Zinter was under the influence of alcohol and distracted by his phone when his truck crossed the centre line on Yellow Point Rd. near Gould Rd. and hit a truck driven by Heidi Barbara Plato, 51, of Ladysmith on Nov. 10, 2015.
Justice Robin Baird said Zinter was motivated by his cowardly desire to escape responsibility for his actions during the night of the crash.
“I've rarely encountered a person so comprehensively dishonest or equipped with such epic powers of self-deception,” Baird told him.
During the trial, Zinter claimed it was in fact Plato's truck which crossed the centre line and crashed into him, which was disputed by an RCMP crash analysts report.
Zinter, who pleaded not guilty to the three charges he faced, was convicted by Justice Baird on July 23. At that time, Baird ordered a pre-sentence report, which included a psychiatric assessment of Zinter.
Baird relayed highlights of the psychologists report, which didn't pinpoint if Zinter had a mental illness or what motivated his behaviour. The psychologist referenced Zinter's past crystal meth use and said he fit the profile of an alcoholic. Further investigation would be required to confirm if Zinter has a mental illness, the report said.
Statements from Zinter's brother, describing him as a consistent liar with a knack for self-deception, was also referenced in Baird's sentencing.
The judge also took exception to earlier claims from Zinter of being an industrious, hard-working construction contractor, citing a damning characterization from a previous boss.
“Drunken, volatile and unreliable former employee who he would never hire again,” Baird read from the pre-sentence report.
Zinter's bizarre trial included numerous delays, beginning with the firing of his lawyer after the crown rested its case in late June. Zinter was arrested the next week for failing to show up for the resumption of his trial.
His trial was originally slated to begin in the summer of 2017, however it was postponed after Zinter fired his then-lawyer. Baird also denied numerous adjournment applications from Zinter.
Zinter, who turns 42-years-old on Saturday, appeared emotionally drained and occasionally teared up in the prisoners box just a few feet from a dozen supporters of Plato.
He mumbled a brief inaudible statement to the court before twice softly saying he was sorry for his actions.
Zinter has a lengthy criminal record, including numerous 24-hour roadside prohibitions and an assault conviction. He failed to provide a breath sample nearly a year after the fatal collision with Plato.
Crown prosecutor Nick Barber was pleased with the sentence, a length which he recommended. He said avoidable fatal crashes on our roads are all too common and a strong message needs to be sent.
“The sentences are going to keep going higher for this kind of thing and people better take it seriously,” Barber said. “Motor vehicle collisions kill more people than almost anything else.”
Pete Vizvari, Plato's partner, said he was satisfied with the sentence for Zinter, but it feels a bit light to him given the facts of the case.
He told NanaimoNewsNOW Zinter's prolonged stall tactics over the past year speak volumes.
“I think he was just showing his character and his personality, he's a manipulative type of guy with no remorse,” Vizvari said. “He was just trying to find a way to get out of the situation but no one believes any of it.”
Vizvari and Plato played in a punk band together and were a couple for 30-years. Plato was a popular former legal secretary and Canada Post employee, who was returning home from the grocery store the night her life was cut short.
Vizvari said he was floored by an overwhelming amount of support he received.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” Vizvari said as he choked up with emotion. “If I didn't have friends I don't know how I would have been be able to handle any of this. I Felt the community was behind me, I just love my friends that's all I can say."
—Note to readers. This is an updated article with context and reaction to the conclusion of the Dustin Zinter trial.
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