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

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Salmon Arm pool to reopen for limited programming, not drop ins

Strict sanitization protocols in place including one-hour closure between scheduled swims

Vehicle incident stalls traffic on Highway 1 east of Salmon Arm

Drive BC reports road closed, assessment underway

Sicamous business duo broaden downtown beach vibe

Jody Boychuk and Eddy Johnston enjoying bigger, brighter Sicamous location

Milestone RCMP Cops For Kids fundraiser ride going virtual

You can join and help RCMP raise funds for families and possibly win 20th anniversary cycling shirt

No abandoned Seadoo found on Okanagan lake

Vernon Search and Rescue crews and RCMP unable to find reported abandoned Seadoo on Kal Lake

Lower Mainland woman says llama farming neighbour shot her 11-month-old pup

Young dog was on owner’s Maple Ridge property when it was killed on June 21

B.C. records 31 new cases, six deaths over three days due to COVID-19

There are 166 active cases in B.C., 16 people in hospital

Police issue warning after baby comes across suspected drugs in Kamloops park

The 11-month-old girl’s mother posted photos on social media showing a small plastic bag containing a purple substance

B.C. highway widening job reduced, costs still up $61 million

Union-only project scales back work to widen Trans-Canada

Kamloops man pleads guilty in vehicle-ramming incident that injured a Mountie

Adam Hibbert was arrested following a collision during a police pursuit on May 26, 2019

Greater Victoria nanny pleads guilty to child porn, sexual interference charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to slew of sex crimes

Most Read