A Canadian Armed Forces veteran who committed a vehicle theft with an imitation handgun near Vernon has been sentenced to roughly 19 months jail.
Ryan Miller, 47, appeared before Justice Briana Hardwick in BC Supreme Court Friday, Dec. 8, for sentencing on five charges: robbery, use of an imitation firearm to commit an offence, arson, possession of stolen property over $5,000 and dangerous driving. Miller had previously pleaded guilty to those charges.
The court heard the details of the offences from Crown counsel Brock Bellrichard, who said that around 11 p.m. on June 16, 2021, Miller — who was on probation — pulled up to the Kal Lake lookout in a stolen vehicle and parked beside a red Camaro that had two people inside it. He approached the couple on foot with a flashlight before pulling out what appeared to be a black handgun, which turned out to be an air soft gun.
Miller told the couple to get out of the vehicle and give him their phones and wallets.
“Both were quite frightened as there was no one else around (and) complied with those orders,” Bellrichard said.
Miller then threw to the couple a pair of zap straps and asked them to use them to constrain themselves at gunpoint. Once the zap straps were on both people, Miller got into the Camaro and sped away south along Highway 97 towards Kelowna.
Once the victims were on their feet, they noticed a glow coming from the stolen vehicle Miller had arrived in and abandoned. That glow turned out to be fire, and the vehicle was soon engulfed in flames.
The Camaro had On-Star assistance, and police were able to use the service to track the vehicle moving at a high rate of speed past Lake Country.
Bellrichard noted that despite how scary the situation was for the two victims, neither of them were physically hurt, although one of the victims was “quite distraught and still impacted by the incident to this day.”
As Miller continued speeding down the highway, the Kelowna RCMP became involved in the incident and tracked the Camaro driving well over 170 km/h along Highway 97 towards downtown Kelowna.
Police made many attempts to stop the vehicle, and ultimately the chase ended on Clifton Road in a residential area where Miller was driving about 110 km/h.
The car was found in the Clifton Road area and was running but disabled. The driver’s door was open and inside the car, police found a set of zap straps. A canine unit was called to the scene and police were able to track down the air soft pistol Miller had thrown on the ground, and eventually police found Miller in a nearby home’s pool room, where he was arrested without further incident.
Bellrichard pointed out that Miller does have a criminal history, including intimate partner violence, uttering threats, assault, criminal harassment and most recently possession of stolen property from November 2020.
“Mr. Miller does have a history of violence, however some of that violence is rather outdated,” Bellrichard said.
Bellrichard said mitigating factors in this case included the fact that Miller entered into a guilty plea, thus saving court resources and sparing many police officers from multiple jurisdictions from having to testify in court. Another mitigating factor was the fact that Miller attended a Veterans Affairs funded residential treatment program on Vancouver Island to help with substance use issues and successfully completed the program. Bellrichard noted that what landed Miller back in trouble was a “technical breach” for being in possession of a lighter contrary to his release order.
However, the Crown lawyer said the aggravating factors in this case called for a significant jail sentence, with those factors being that it was a random act of violence with an imitation firearm that the victims could only assume was a real gun. Bellrichard also noted that Miller caused a dangerous situation with the vehicle fire during the summer months when wildfires are a threat to the community. Bellrichard added Miller’s driving at times over twice the speed limit was particularly concerning.
The Crown and defence made a joint submission that Miller should receive a sentence of 1,500 days, which is just under 50 months, and Bellrichard noted Miller’s enhanced credit for time already spent in custody was 924 days.
Defence lawyer Grant Gray said Miller had joined the Canadian Armed Forces when he was 19, serving in Kosovo and Bosnia in combat situations over his six years of service. He said Miller was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his service.
Gray said Miller went on to work in the oil rigs as well as the forestry industry in Merritt, and had trouble with the law after he stopped working.
Gray said Miller dealt with a number of substance use problems involving cocaine and methamphetamine, but said alcohol was always his “number one difficulty.”
Gray said Miller, who has a seven-year-old son, was willing to embrace treatment for his addictions, adding he has a particular affection for his client.
“I must say that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Miller, partially because he’s a veteran … but also because of what he has been able to accomplish while he’s been in custody and then released from custody,” Gray said.
Miller, who appeared by video from custody, addressed Justice Hardwick directly, telling her: “I don’t really recall what happened that night, but I do know that it is 100 per cent unacceptable. I’d also say I was completely out of my mind.” He added he has struggled with addiction for the last 20 years but has been sober since his arrest two and a half years ago, during which time he’s missed two of his son’s birthdays.
Miller said he understood there needs to be a significant jail sentence for the crimes he committed, but said he hoped for some leniency given he has addressed the underlying problem of substance abuse.
He said he “just wants to be a dad” and see his family after his jail sentence.
Justice Hardwick agreed with the joint submission and gave Miller his 924 days of enhanced credit. She sentenced him to another 576 days, or 19 months, to serve in jail, but decided not to impose a one-year driving prohibition that the Crown had asked for.
Miller also received a year of probation which will kick in once he’s released from custody at the end of his sentence.