MILTON—A Milton judge said the case of a father charged with accidentally leaving his three-year-old son in a hot car to die is one of the saddest cases she has dealt with.
In giving Shaun Pennell an absolute discharge, Justice Lesley Baldwin said Pennell’s family has suffered so much — and continues to suffer.
Pennell, 38, appeared in Milton court on Tuesday, where he pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to provide the necessities of life to his child, Wyatt Pennell. The Crown was asking for a suspended sentence and probation.
Wyatt died from hyperthermia after being left in a hot vehicle on May 23, 2018, by his dad, who was supposed to drop him off at daycare that morning.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Pennell forgot Wyatt was behind him in a car seat and instead drove to his workplace, NUVO Network, at the Burlington Crossroads Centre.
The court heard that Jennifer called her husband, who became hysterical when he realized what had happened. The parents called 911. Police and paramedics were unable to revive the little boy.
Pennell was charged with failing to provide the necessities of life and negligence causing death. The second charge was withdrawn.
Pennell, clad in a grey suit, could be seen occasionally wiping tears from his eyes during the proceedings. Jennifer attended court with him.
“It is difficult to contemplate something more devastating than losing one’s child. It is even more so when you are the cause of that loss,” said assistant Crown attorney Nick Chiera.
“Mr. Pennell did not mean to cause his son any harm. Quite to the contrary, he loved his son. He grieves for him along with everyone else who also cared for Wyatt. That’s what makes this a difficult case.”
Defence attorney Brian Greenspan said Pennell’s actions have already devastated him. In a statement to the court, Jennifer said Pennell cried constantly for months following Wyatt’s death.
She also said he has lost weight and has sleep issues and frequent disturbing flashbacks.
“He struggles to make it through the days, but he continues to go to work and provide for his family. He is haunted by what he has done. He knows why our son is no longer here and it is torture,” said Jennifer.
“My husband is a loving father who made a terrible mistake and that has forever changed us.”
Greenspan said Pennell is also undergoing psychological counselling and plans to use his experience in the tech industry to design and develop some kind of device or program, possibly a car seat alarm, to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.
Greenspan said no good would be served for Pennell to leave the court with a criminal record and called for him to be discharged. He also argued that if probation was imposed it should be no longer than six months. Pennell declined to address the court.
Justice Baldwin argued a harsh sentence for Pennell would have zero deterrent value given the nature of what happened and the fact that Pennell is now hypervigilant when it comes to the care of his two-year-old daughter.
As well, the justice said she was impressed that Pennell wants to develop technology to prevent similar tragedies.
“There is no reason for Mr. Pennell to leave this building with a criminal record given these tragic circumstances,” said Baldwin. “He has done everything he can to address this tragedy from the moment it happened.”