Tracy Dawn Smith has been sentenced to one day in jail and three years probation for hitting and killing motorcycle rider Janarthan Mehanthiran on Canada Day 2011.
Judge Robert Higinbotham passed the sentence on Thursday, Dec. 6 in Western Communities Courthouse after a lengthy explanation of the factors that went into his decision. Smith pleaded guilty in June to impaired driving causing death.
“I have determined that the principle of denunciation must yield in this case to the principle of rehabilitation and reformation,” Higinbotham said. “In light of the clear evidence that any significant prison sentence will, at minimum, render meaningless and useless all of the progress to date, no halfway measures are fit.”
Since the crash Smith has been living at VisionQuest Recovery Society in Surrey. She has been sober and free of illegal drugs since the crash and has, according to her supervisors, been an exemplary resident of the rehabilitation centre and an inspiration to the other residents there.
During pre-sentencing VisionQuest executive director Jim O’Rourke argued Smith would be better off staying at the centre, rather than spending time in prison where she would be far more likely to continue drug use. She would also not have access to the psychological counseling and treatment programs that O’Rourke said have been helping her significantly.
Higinbotham also took into account that Smith was assessed to have the cognitive functions of a nine-year-old and has had a life filled with both physical and sexual abuse during her childhood, and then later in life, with rampant addiction and mental health problems.
The judge stated he will keep a close eye on Smith during her probation and will not take any breaches lightly.
In addition to probation Smith is prohibited from driving for 10 years. As part of her probation Smith must stay at VisionQuest unless the court gives permission to leave. She is also ordered to not possess or consume alcohol or illegal drugs and she must perform an additional 200 hours of community service.
Mehanthiran’s family listened to the sentence by teleconference from Ontario. Higinbotham acknowledged the suffering caused to the family by Smith’s actions.
“In this case a loving husband and son needlessly lost his life, and those who survive him will carry the pain of their loss with them forever,” Higinbotham said.
Smith’s lawyer, Robert Jones, said he is pleased with the decision.
“What (Higinbotham) did, was show that in many cases rehabilitation can overcome denunciation,” Jones said. “We can’t avoid the tragedy of this unfortunate death, we know the family is suffering. However, I didn’t want to see the death of another person, that being Tracy Smith herself.”
Jones agreed sending her to prison would have likely destroyed any progress Smith has made since the crash and would quickly reintroduce her to drug use.
“Now she’s climbing out of that abyss, she’s growing, she’s developing,” Jones said. “It’s hope that she might lead a full and protected life for some time.”
Outside of the courthouse motorcyclist Bobbi Bjornholt, who knew Mahenthiran and has been following the trial closely, spoke to media. She said she was disappointed by the judge’s decision.
“I think it’s incredibly light. I think that after a tragedy like this Ms. Smith should have to face a lot more serious consequences,” Bjornholt said. “There’s a lot of us out here that still feel in danger that people like her are out driving around.”
Bjornholt added the failures in the system start much higher than the court. She questions how Smith had a driver’s licence in the first place given her drug addiction and mental health.
Smith was taken into custody after the sentencing. She will give a DNA sample and following her one-day sentence will be transported back to VisionQuest in Surrey.