A 38-year-old woman has been sentenced to house arrest for the death of her three-year-old son, who drowned after she drove onto a flooded road and failed to save him.

Michelle Hanson managed to get Kaden Young out of the car, but lost her grip when the Grand River washed him away on Feb. 21, 2018, near Orangeville, Ont.

Hundreds searched for the boy daily until his body was found underneath a bridge two months later.

Hanson pleaded guilty in November to one count of criminal negligence causing death.

Justice Gisele Miller accepted a joint position from the Crown and defence on sentencing.

“No penalty imposed by this court will ever have the effect of punishing Michelle Hanson more than she has punished herself for her reckless actions and no doubt will continue to punish herself for the rest of her life,” Justice Gisele Miller said Tuesday.

“No penalty this court could impose will ever bring Kaden back or lessen anguish felt by those close to him because of his death and its circumstances.”

Hanson admitted to drinking alcohol and then taking Young out for a drive because he could not sleep.

Court heard she drove around a large sign that said the road was closed due to an overflowing river during a winter thaw, and ended up partially submerged in the fast-moving water.

Hanson will be under house arrest for 18 months followed by six months with a nightly curfew.

She also must attend counselling for grief and substance use and will be prohibited from driving for three years.

“Miss Hanson, you too have suffered a great loss because of your actions on February 21, 2018,” Miller said.

“I hope you are able to accept the help you need to come to terms with that.”

The judge said there were no other cases with similar facts for sentencing purposes. While criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, court heard of a few other cases where a family member caused the death of a loved one through negligence.

Those sentences were either short periods behind bars, house arrest or conditional sentences, the judge noted.

Cameron Young, the boy's father, recalled the pain and anguish he lives with in his victim impact statement, which was read in court, conducted over Zoom, by Crown attorney Danielle Garbaty.

He said he received a call at 12:50 a.m. on Feb. 21, 2018, saying his son had been in an accident with Hanson.

He jumped in his truck and followed the route he thought Hanson would take.

He ran into the Ontario Provincial Police not far from home.

“My heart sank when I was told that the van was in the river and there was no sign of Kaden,” Young wrote.

“After what felt like an eternity, emergency services were unable to find my son.”

The force's emergency response team continued to look for Kaden.

“I couldn't just sit back and wait, so for the next 59 days, with the help and support of family and friends and hundreds of volunteers we continued looking for my son,” Young wrote.

He said he was exhausted both emotionally and physically.

“And I struggled with the thought of wondering if I would ever be able to lay my son to rest where he deserved,” Young wrote.

“I couldn't stop until Kaden was brought home one last time.”

On April 21, he got a call that a child's body had been found near a bridge and he needed to come in.

“Identifying my son Kaden's tiny, lifeless body that day is something no parent should ever have to do,” Young wrote.

He cannot get the image of his boy's body out of his mind.

“To this day, every time I am driving on a bridge or near a river, those very same images of that day come flooding back into my mind and I can't shake them,” he wrote.

He has terrible flashbacks, trouble sleeping and lives with depression and anxiety.

Young has two other sons -- one with Hanson -- and said he hopes to one day enjoy the good things in his life.

“I wake up every morning and remind myself that Kaden would want me to be happy, for us to be happy,” Young wrote.

“He would want me to enjoy life just like we used to before he was so tragically taken from me.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.