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Six-year sentence reduced to 16 months in deadly purse-snatching

'Her determined independence was admirable … (and) instead it marked her for victimization,' judge says of Marion Fenwick

A drug addiction that was at the core of a purse-snatching resulting in the death of an elderly Collingwood woman remains a concern for the perpetrator and his family.

Caleb Burgler, now 34, was handed a six-year sentence Tuesday followed by three years probation for a charge of criminal negligence causing death, to which he had earlier pleaded guilty. His sentence has been reduced to 16 months and eight days when given enhanced credit for the time he spent in jail awaiting his day in court.

“I was just hopeful he would have got time served,” his mom, Lori Houtzager, said after Burgler's sentencing Tuesday. “You can’t start rehabilitation in jail.”

Court heard Burgler had a history of drug addiction that eventually cost him his job in 2018, one to which he never returned.

Marion Fenwick, a petite 86-year-old woman who lived on her own, was on the way home from getting groceries when Burgler crossed her path on Sept. 14, 2019, on Market Lane near her Collingwood apartment.

The 86-year-old woman went to a nearby Giant Tiger store and picked up groceries and lottery tickets, spending $54.73 and getting $40 in cashback.

Court heard Burgler had an opioid addiction and needed money to buy drugs. He was on his bike when he spotted Fenwick, walking with a cane, carrying her purse and a bag of groceries. As he whipped past her, grabbing her purse, she hit the ground and he kept going.

In reviewing the facts, Ontario Superior Court Justice Michelle Fuerst noted that Fenwick cried out, but Burgler just kept on riding, showing a “wanton disregard” for the elderly woman.

The fall resulted in a broken hip, which required surgery. But Fenwick became ill with pneumonia and died within days of the purse-snatching.

“Her end was not the end she deserved,” said the judge.

A video of the event was posted on social media and Burgler eventually turned himself in to police. 

During sentencing on Tuesday, Fuerst said Burgler had tried rehabilitation in the past, but was never successful and was unable to get his addiction under control.  She described an early drug habit that developed into an addiction.

Court heard Burgler grew up in a loving family in Simcoe County, but he started doing ecstasy and cocaine around age 15 and progressed to oxycodone. By Grade 12, he had an addiction.

Burgler did manage to finish high school and earned his welding ticket, but when he left his last job in 2018 because of his addiction, he never went back to work.

His family, who remain supportive, believe he needs lengthy rehabilitation. 

“Mr. Burgler chose to victimize a vulnerable person,” said the judge, adding she “was an easy target” and her injury was “entirely foreseeable."

“Her determined independence was admirable … (and) instead it marked her for victimization," Fuerst said.

Fenwick’s three nieces, who have attended all the court appearances, agreed with the judge’s assessment of the case.

“The way she spoke and the points she made, she said all the things we needed to say,” said Jennifer Lougheed.

Burgler’s mother, meanwhile, said she’s ready to help him when he's released from custody.

“This whole thing has caused an addiction for me to alcohol and I myself went to treatment centre and I’ve been seven months sober," Houtzager said. "So I’m in a much better position to help him when he comes home. Addiction is a disease and not everybody overcomes that disease no matter what the addiction is, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling.”