Accused makes appearance on drunk driving charges
On Canada Day, summer had finally arrived and Janarthan Mahenthiran was ready to hit the open road.
The 47-year-old Victoria man met his fellow motorcycle enthusiasts at Moka House in Cook Street Village for coffee and chitchat. The group was prepped for a Canada Day ride around the city, but Mahenthiran opted out – too many people for his taste.
Instead, the man known as “Jana” to his biking buddies made his way out of Victoria on his Yamaha FZ-1. At 12:20 p.m., at the curve in the Trans-Canada Highway just past the idle Spencer interchange, a southbound Lexus crossed the centre line and hit Mahenthiran head-on.
Motorcyclist Dave Adams of Cowichan Bay was driving into Victoria to pick up his wife for a holiday ride. One of the first on the scene, he started chest compressions on Mahenthiran until fire crews and paramedics arrived.
“I didn’t know it was a biker at first, and it was just carnage,” Adams said Thursday outside of Western Communities Courthouse. “There was a big fire from the bike gas tank. I looked around and found the rider and started first aid.”
Mahenthiran was clad in full leathers, a helmet and safety gear, but was pronounced dead at the scene. It took a while for Adams to understand which vehicle had struck the man he recognized as a acquaintance – the Lexus didn’t come to rest until near the interchange bridge.
“He was still in his lane. He hit her car right in the middle. She was in his lane, not just over the line,” Adams said. “I was pretty shaken up. I didn’t ride my bike home that day.”
About eight riders attended court on Thursday for a bail hearing for the female driver charged in Mahenthiran’s death. Some were sports bike enthusiasts who knew him personally, some were tattooed men attending out of respect for a fellow rider.
Marc Pootmans said Mahenthiran was known as a safe, responsible rider, and was well liked within Victoria’s motorcycle community.
“He was always just full of life, always cheerful. All riders are passionate, but he stood out as a warmer rider,” said Pootmans, who occasionally rode with Mahenthiran. “He was a good guy. That is why we are here to show support and respect for the family.”
“It could have been any one of us,” remarked Bobbi Bjornholt, who also rode with Mahenthiran.
“I’m guessing he was going for a ride out of town to get away from traffic. Motorcyclists like the free road,” said Alison Smith, who saw Mahenthiran on Canada Day at the coffee shop.
“There has to be some serious failures to get to this point, from addiction treatments to the courts,” she said, referring to the alleged checkered past of the accused driver. “This was a preventable accident.”
“It’s disgusting what caused his death,” Pootmans added. “It’s absolutely disgusting.”
“I hope they system does what needs to be done when it’s something as bad as this,” said rider Jim Gowriluk, who didn’t know Mahenthiran, but came to the courthouse to show his support.
Mahenthiran’s wife, brother, brother-in-law and mother, all who live in Toronto, Ont., also sat patiently in court for the alleged Lexus driver to make an appearance.
Mahenthiran had been living in Victoria alone for a year after he found a job in information technology. Originally from Sri Lanka and living in Canada for 30 years, he often travelled to Toronto to be with his family, his family said, and he had been a passionate motorcycle rider from a young age.
The accused Lexus driver, Tracy Dawn Smith, 35, of Victoria has been charged with dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving causing death in relation to Mahenthiran’s death.
Smith is already under a number of bail conditions linked to an assault charge from April 9, including not possessing or consuming alcohol.
She sat quietly and nervously in the prisoner’s box Thursday for a judicial interim release hearing. Her eyes sought out familiar faces in the audience, her gaunt face encased by a mass of brown curly hair that seemed to overwhelm her slight frame.
Her case was held over until July 14, where she will make a video appearance from a pre-trial custody facility in Surrey.
–An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the victim as Mahenthiran Janarthan, as gleaned from a court document. The Gazette apologizes for the error.