A Yukon judge has handed down a one-month conditional sentence and $1,000 fine to a Whitehorse woman who fatally struck a pedestrian with her truck at a downtown crosswalk last November, a tragedy partially caused by sun glare on the road.
Karen Kennedy pleaded guilty to one charge of careless driving, a Motor Vehicles Act violation, in territorial court the afternoon of Sept. 22 for the crash that killed 48-year-old Merle Gorgichuk.
She had originally been charged with failing to yield for a pedestrian, a charge the Crown later stayed.
According to the agreed statement of facts read to the court by Crown attorney Kelly McGill, Gorgichuk had been crossing Second Avenue at Elliott Street around 11:45 a.m. and had been in the marked crosswalk for about five seconds when Kennedy struck him with her Dodge Ram 1500.
The impact sent Gorgichuk flying into the air. He struck a sign pole and was “severely injured,” living for only a “very short period of time” after that.
Kennedy, who had a small child in the truck with her and was also nine months pregnant at the time, did not brake before impact.
Neither she nor her children were injured, and she pulled over immediately.
A collision analyst’s report said that the truck had been travelling at a minimum of 57 km/h at the time of the crash, slightly above the posted speed limit of 50 km/h, and that Kenedy had not braked before impact.
She had been driving towards the sun, according to the agreed statement of facts, and the light combined with wet pavement created a “solar glare situation” that contributed to the collision.
Another vehicle parked on Second Avenue may have also partially obstructed her view of Gorgichuk.
In a victim impact statement also read to the court by McGill, Gorgichuk’s brother, Danny Campbell, wrote that the crash had taken away one of the few family members he had left, and that he hoped Kennedy realized the impact Gorgichuk’s death had.
“His life isn’t the only life they affected … Nothing can help, nothing can bring back my brother,” he wrote.
However, he also said that he wasn’t mad at Kennedy, and hoped that they could both grow from the situation.
Kennedy, who sat alone at the defence table, began to cry as her lawyer Richard Fowler, who was attending the proceedings by phone, went over her personal circumstances.
It was clear from the evidence, Fowler said, that the crash was a “tragic accident” that’s had a huge impact on Kennedy. She’s a longtime nurse, he noted, and got into the profession to help save lives; she must now live with the “unfathomable reality” of having taken one.
Several letters of character submitted to the court by friends and family described her as a caring, joyful person with a giving nature who has been overcome by remorse, guilt and grief since the crash.
Kennedy didn’t wish to speak to the court herself as she thought it would be too much to handle, Fowler said, but it was clear from the letters that she was extremely remorseful.
Fowler and McGill put forward a joint sentencing submission, which judge Michael Cozens accepted.
Kennedy’s one-month conditional sentence will be served in the community under several conditions, including remaining on her property except for emergencies, employment purposes or family needs, remaining in the Yukon and keeping the peace.
She will have 12 months to pay the $1,00 fine, which also came with a $150 surcharge.
Cozens directly addressed Kennedy several times as he sentenced her, urging her to “move on” so that she could continue helping people and serving her community.
“You have paid your price — now you need to move forward,” he said. “And that doesn’t mean there won’t be the scars from what happened today, but … being chained to the past actually robs the people you can help in the future because it robs you of yourself.
“What you need to do, the best way you can continue to express how sorry you are for this is to actually … do everything you can to enrich the lives of others, which I can see you’ve been doing for years,” Cozens continued. “You’ve lost some of that, from all the letters I’ve read. You can’t lose that.”
Cozens also noted that Second Avenue was a “notoriously treacherous” area to drive in, and that there are likely many other drivers out there who could say, ‘that could have been me.”
He said he hoped the case would make other people think about their “close calls” and about being more careful, and serve as a reminder that having your attention drift away from the road for even a moment could have tragic consequences for everyone involved.
“I can say that nothing I do today,” he added, “could … impact (Kennedy) more than what she’s already done to herself.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org