Almost two years after a crash near Williams Lake claimed the life of two teenage girls, the driver was sentenced in Williams Lake Provincial Court on Wednesday, Sept. 22.
Dallas Judd-Rekunyk, now 20, pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. The plea was part of an agreement struck between Crown and defence.
Multiple counts of impaired operation causing death or bodily harm were stayed.
Judge Ellen Gordon, who appeared by video conferencing, sentenced Judd-Rekunyk to two years less one day in prison for each death, six months in custody for each count of bodily harm, all to be served concurrently, followed by three years of probation. She will serve her time in a provincial prison.
Judd-Rekunyk is prohibited from driving, and may not be in a driver’s seat if she has consumed alcohol or drugs.
The charges stem from Oct. 19, 2019, when Williams Lake RCMP and emergency personnel responded to a report of single vehicle crash at 3:38 a.m. on Highway 20 about 15 kilometres west of the city. When they arrived they discovered a 2008 GMC pickup had left the road and rolled onto its roof.
During the hearing Crown Counsel Hadyn Shook outlined the facts that Judd-Rekunyk had consumed alcohol and cocaine before driving the truck.
Autumn Weir, 17, was pronounced dead at the scene and four other occupants were taken to the hospital, one with critical injuries.
Two days later on Monday, Oct. 21, Faith Liberty Unger, 19, died in the hospital.
Members of Faith and Autumn’s families read out victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing.
“You have destroyed my life. You have taken my daughter, my best friend, my baby, away from me forever,” Faith’s mother Denise Wilson said. “I cannot escape what you have done. I am bound to live this nightmare forever. I have cried for hours every single day.”
She said she has not been able to sleep and is too “emotionally tortured to be a normal part of society anymore.”
Faith’s grandma, standing with her husband who placed his hand on her shoulder, read out some text messages she exchanged with Faith a few days before her death and said there will never be any more “life conversations.”
She said it has been very difficult to watch her daughter “trying to navigate life.”
Autumn was co-raised by her father Dean Weir, and step mom, Michelle Weir, along with her mom, Sheri Lyons, and her partner, Mo Giesbrecht, in a tight-knit, blended family.
Michelle read a letter she had written to Autumn, starting out with the words, “the day you were taken from us on October 19, a piece inside me died too.”
She said she asks everyday why this happened and why it happened to Autumn, and is slowly trying to learn how to live without her.
Lyons said even after almost two years she wakes up every day hoping it’s all been a horrible dream.
“Then I remember my best friend of 17 years has passed and I will not see her again,” Lyons said. “I spent the last two years wondering if I was to blame, if I could have done more.”
Lyons said she was proud of her daughter who was looking into going to school and trying to figure out what interested her.
“Autumn touched so many of our lives and now we must live life without her.”
Shook read out a letter to Autumn from her younger sister, Hailey, in which, she said everyone knows what happened but they don’t understand why.
“I sat in my room crying every single night thinking about what I will never get to experience with my only sister…. But, she has taught me how to be strong, stand up for myself. Life is tough, but losing your best friend is tougher. People talk about how they hate their family or how they don’t get along, but all I can say is make every moment count because before you know it all your texts, snaps, calls will all stay opened one day which will turn into a month and then a year. This sucks.”
Defence lawyer J. Michi said the victims’ statements were powerful and poignant expressions of anguish and remorse.
“Every tragedy like this leaves in its wake varying amounts of grief, sorrow, anguish, anger and frustration,” he said. “In all cases like this lives are extinguished permanently, while others are ruined.”
Gordon said she “was touched beyond anything any of you can imagine by the pain and anguish that you all suffered and continue to suffer. The role of the judicial system can never put anyone back in the position they were in the morning of Oct. 18, 2019 but I hope that you will have some measure of relief from today’s proceedings as there are no anxieties about these proceedings anymore.”
Gordon said she witnessed culpable, genuine remorse from Judd-Rekunyk for what happened.
“I know that you too will live with this every day for the rest of your life,” she told her. “You are a walking example of why consuming substances before driving is a crime and why distracted driving is a crime and why we say all the time, ‘do not look at your phone while you are driving.’ That eighth of a second that you looked down to change the song changed your life and everyone in that truck’s life and every single person who gave a statement today was impacted by that decision.”
Judd-Rekunyk sat beside her lawyer during the hearing, weeping through most of it.
Before being sentenced, Gordon asked if she would like to say anything.
“Unfortunately there is nothing I can say to change what happened, I am really sorry for all the pain I’ve caused everybody,” Judd-Rekunyk replied. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the girls and wish that I could have traded places with them and I am so sorry.”
Outside the courthouse a handful of people held red signs that read “Justice for Faith & Autumn” and “We are serving a life sentence.”