Leila Bui remains in an unresponsive state more than two years since she was struck in a Saanich crosswalk. The now 13-year-old was in court when a guilty verdict was read for Tenessa Nikirk, the woman who struck her. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Dangerous driving sentence expected to be complicated after B.C. girl left unresponsive

Judge will face some tough decisions, says Victoria defence lawyer

While 13-year-old Leila Bui sat in her wheelchair, a pair of sunglasses covering her closed eyes and a purple blanket protecting her small, immobile frame from the January wind, her parents Kierry Nguyen and Tuan Bui tearfully told reporters all they want is a genuine apology from the driver who hit her.

But the judge determining the sentence for Tenessa Nikirk has a difficult decision to make, says Victoria defence lawyer Michael Mulligan.

RELATED: Driver guilty in Saanich crash that left 11-year-old with catastrophic brain injuries

“Oftentimes the people who do these things aren’t otherwise bad people,” Mulligan said. “It’s much harder if you’re sentencing someone who is otherwise a trouble-free, law-abiding person who on some occasion had some bad judgment and caused this tragic result.”

Nikirk was convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm after she struck then 11-year-old Leila, with her SUV in a Saanich crosswalk in December 2017. Leila received catastrophic injuries to her brain and body and has been in a non-responsive state since. She is fed through a tube and bound to her wheelchair and since she was hit, requires constant care.

The guilty verdict means an automatic breach of insurance coverage – putting Nikirk on the hook for the little girl’s medical care, which could go on for a lifetime.

“It’s a cautionary tale for anyone driving that way – you may spend the absolute rest of your life paying for it,” Mulligan says, adding that even filing for bankruptcy won’t protect drivers if the court imposes a fine or restitution order.

RELATED: One year later, life is much different in Saanich for the Bui family

In his guilty decision, Judge Mayland McKimm listed Nikirk’s speeding, tailgating and texting in his decision, writing that she was engaged in “distracting behaviour for some time prior to the moment of impact.”

Throughout the trial, witnesses, dashcam footage and texting records painted a picture of a negligent driver, and McKimm wrote he was satisfied that the “dangerous driving in question is the cause of the accident which left tragic injuries to the victim.”

But Mulligan says in cases like these, moral culpability and deterrence create questions worth examining. Should a dangerous driver who gets lucky and doesn’t hit anyone be treated the same as a dangerous driver, like Nikirk, who isn’t so lucky?

“Why should the lucky dangerous driver be sentenced differently from the unlucky dangerous driver?” Mulligan poses. “Surely we’re trying to discourage dangerous driving – not ‘unlucky’ dangerous driving.”

Even if the behaviour – not the consequence – is what leads to the guilty verdict, it’s the consequence that changes the outcome.

“We do punish people more when there is more harm flowing from it,” Mulligan said.

All that can be done from a sentencing point of view, is punish the driver, he added.

“No matter what we do in terms of administering punishment, it simply cannot fix the harm that’s been caused. … This case is a complete and utter tragedy, it will have a devastating effect on the entire life of this young girl and it will have a devastating effect on the young person who was driving the Mercedes and has been convicted.

“It will be a life-changing event for both of them, for their families and ultimately, there’s no sentence that can be imposed that fixes any of that.”

Nikirk will be in court Tuesday to fix a date for sentencing.

RELATED: VIDEO: Lawyer says SUV that hit Leila Bui was going 53 km/h at point of impact



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mountain biking promotion reaches new heights in Williams Lake

The City’s economic development office is working on a number of projects

First Nations youth get hands on archaeological experience

Delving into the ancient past has inspired the future aspirations of four First Nations youth

Big Lake 4-H Club: Meet the club members and projects for 62nd annual show and sale

On Monday, Aug. 10 from 12 to 6 p.m. you are welcome to view the animals at the WL Stockyards

53 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths cap off week of high infection rates in B.C.

Roughly 1,500 people are self-isolating because they either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

Most Read