Alaskan who sped past Canadian border guards pleads guilty in Yukon court

Ashley Joannou

An Anchorage man who blew past the border into Canada on the Alaska Highway at Beaver Creek, Yukon, and evaded the police for nearly 250 miles has pleaded guilty in territorial court.

Jason Echeverri appeared in a Whitehorse court Wednesday and pleaded guilty to three charges, including dangerous driving. Sentencing is scheduled for later this year.

On Oct. 2, 2012, at about 8 a.m., Echeverri drove out of Alaska to the Beaver Creek port of entry, where he was denied entry.

His silver 2007 Saturn Ion had no licence plate and only the temporary permit displayed in the rear window.

The 29-year-old told guards he was traveling through Canada to move from Alaska to the Lower 48, the court heard.

According to an agreed statement of fact, his vehicle was essentially empty except for a bowling ball and bowling bag.

There were also documents, including money transfers to Germany and Bulgaria, as well as a fraudulent agreement between the accused and the Microsoft Corp.

During an interview with the guards, Echeverri admitted to having four entries on an American criminal record, when in fact he had several more.

He claimed to have only $200, no credit cards and no bank accounts.

Border officials permitted Echeverri to voluntarily leave Canada by driving back to the Alaska port of entry on the border about 20 miles away. He left the Beaver Creek entry point at approximately 11:10 a.m.

About six hours after he first arrived at the Beaver Creek entry point, the Canadian officials were informed Echeverri had escaped the custody of U.S. border officials at Alcan.

He had assaulted them, had successfully taken his keys from the American point of entry and was driving toward Beaver Creek.

Few details were provided as to what happened on the American side of the border. Wednesday's court appearance dealt only with what happened on Canadian soil.

Echeverri is facing U.S. charges as well, including assaulting a peace officer, the court was told.

At about 3 p.m. on the day in question, Echeverri drove back through the Beaver Creek entry point at a high rate of speed without stopping. He was followed by RCMP officers.

Echeverri drove for hours, mostly on the Alaska Highway and through multiple communities, including Beaver Creek, Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay.

Prosecutor Terri Nguyen estimated the man's speed was up to 100 mph. She noted he had multiple opportunities to turn himself in to police, including one point where he stopped to get more gas.

Echeverri avoided one spike belt laid out on the road to stop him but ran over a second just south of Destruction Bay. The spikes destroyed his two front tires and he drove for 10 miles on the rims, Nguyen said.

The car gave out near Silver City and Echeverri ran into the bush for about five miles before he arrived at an empty cabin belonging to the Arctic Institute of North America, a research organization.

He was found on the top bunk of the unlocked cabin at 9:30 p.m. by the RCMP's emergency response team and police dog.

Echeverri was originally charged with break and enter. But in court yesterday, he told Judge Michael Cozens that he only went into the cabin to rest and keep warm waiting for police to arrive. He wasn't trying to hide nor evade arrest, he said.

The judge found Echeverri not guilty of the break and enter charge, saying there was reasonable doubt as to his intention for being in the cabin.

Much of Wednesday afternoon centered on how long Echeverri should spend in custody for his crimes.

His lawyer, Lynn MacDiarmid, is seeking a 12-month jail sentence, while Nguyen is suggesting 3 1/2 years in a federal prison.

MacDiarmid gave little explanation as to why her client chose to speed through the border.

A drug addict who spent much of his 20s in jail, Echeverri was beginning to get his life back together, living with his mother and preparing for school, she said.

There was nothing he was running from; he just "needed to get away from his old life and start again," MacDiarmid said.

The trip was "unplanned" and a case of "poor judgment," she said.

MacDiarmid pointed out that for much of the 250 miles, Echeverri was on an empty road, not near police nor any member of the public who could be in danger.

His view is that he would not have let it go on that long if he had been putting people at risk, she said.

Nguyen has a very different view of things.

After hitting the spike belt and driving only on his rims, Echeverri passed two other vehicles. Those drivers and passengers were put at risk, especially since Echeverri's car would have been harder to control without inflated front tires, she said.

The expense of the search which, in the end, included four RCMP officers, the emergency response team and the RCMP plane, also makes a 3 1/2-year sentence appropriate, she said.

It's important to send a strong message that the breach of our national borders will not be tolerated, she said.

Cozens told the lawyers he will need more time to consider their arguments.

During the next court appearance, the sides will also discuss how much credit Echeverri should get for the four months he has already spent in jail.

A date for that hearing has not been set, but will likely not be until April, the court heard.



Whitehorse Daily Star