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

Two new COVID-19 cases announced in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region is at 533

Selkirk College international students get helping hands from Korean moms

We Care K-Moms have been shopping and delivering food to new arrivals

New trial ordered for man found guilty of the 2010 murder of his wife in Arrow Lakes

Peter Beckett was found guilty of murdering his wife 10 years ago

Traffic change in Trail on Wednesday

Workers are performing a required inspection of the Victoria Street Bridge lighting

Free public transit for Greater Trail seniors on Thursday

The no-charge day is to recognize National Senior’s Day

B.C. counts 125 new COVID-19 cases, up to 1,284 active

No new deaths or health care facility outbreaks

Health Canada green-lights rapid COVID-19 test

Health Canada approved the BCube test from Hyris Ltd. in the United Kingdom Sept. 23

6 puppies rescued in mass seizure on Princeton farm die from illness: BC SPCA

Of the 97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized, most of the puppies suffered from parvo

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

U.S. boater fined $1,000 for violation of Quarantine Act

49-year-old man entered Canada to visit girlfriend in Surrey

More sex abuse charges laid against B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’

Investigators now focussing efforts on alleged victims within the Glad Tidings Church community

B.C. VOTES 2020: Businesses now owe $6 billion in deferred tax payments

COVID-19 relief from remittance to province ends with September

Long-term care study credits fewer COVID deaths in B.C. than Ont. to funding, policy

The study was published Wednesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal

Most Read