A sentence is expected in two to three weeks in the case of Tracy Dawn Smith.
Smith, 36, pleaded guilty in June to impaired driving causing the death of 47-year-old Janarthan Mehanthiran on Canada Day 2011. Smith was in Western Communities Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 6 for a sentencing hearing.
Judge Robert Higinbotham said he had hoped to give his sentence Tuesday, especially as the victim’s family came from Ontario to attend the court date, but that he needs time to consider the case and make his decision.
Crown counsel is seeking a sentence of three to five years in prison, followed by a 10-year driving prohibition. Defence lawyer Bob Jones asked for a sentence of two to four years, and for the judge to consider giving Smith credit for the time she has spent living at VisionQuest Recovery Society since being released on bail 15 months ago.
By all accounts Smith has been sober since the accident.
Smith drove into Mahenthiran, who was driving a motorcycle, on the Trans-Canada Highway near the Leigh Road Interchange after she crossed the centre line while under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine. Mahenthiran died at the scene of the accident.
The accident occurred the day before Mahenthiran’s birthday. His mother, who lives in Ontario, found out about her son’s death on his birthday. He is also survived by his wife of 22 years, a brother and two sisters.
Smith read a letter out loud at the hearing expressing her regret and remorse. She did not look at Mahenthiran’s family and read quickly, but audibly fought back emotions as she spoke.
“There will never be enough words to express how sorry I am about this tragic day,” Smith said. “I deeply apologize to the family, my thoughts and prayers are with you and will be every day.”
Mahenthiran’s family, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, said that Smith’s letter felt like a standard apology letter. The victim’s brother-in-law, Cherry Phillips, said they will accept the judge’s decision.
“We’re not revengeful, we’re not wanting her lynched,” Phillips said. “Whatever the court decides is acceptable, because it’s not going to alter what happened. The loss remains.”
“I just want some justice so that nothing happens to anyone, anywhere,” Janarthan Mehanthiran’s mother, Sarojini Mahenthiran, said, “so that no other mother cries like me.”
Crown lawyer Laureen Nowlan-Card revealed Smith was drunk at the time of the crash and smoked crack earlier that day.
Other drivers saw Smith driving erratically as she made her way from Goldstream Provincial Park to the highway, often crossing over the centre line and nearly hitting a parked car.
When Smith hit Mahenthiran, who was travelling in the other direction, she crossed the centre line far enough to hit him with the passenger side of her vehicle.
After the accident Smith claimed that Mahenthiran had hit her. She was taken to hospital, where she was violent and combative with hospital staff and police. She refused to leave the hospital with police and after being put into the back of a police car, split her head open banging it against the window.
Crown is arguing that given Smith was obviously under the influence and was in no condition to drive but still did so for some time before the crash, she is morally responsible.
Jones argued that given Smith’s history and her success in recovery from addictions that she be granted some leniency to continue her recovery. VisionQuest executive director Jim O’Rourke said he believes she would be better off where she is, rather than in prison.
Smith has a history of alcohol abuse stemming back to when she was 15. Between 2009 and 2011 she worked as a prostitute to support her drug habit. An abusive childhood as a result of being an aboriginal child from a family with survivors of residential schools is also being considered. Smith also has no prior criminal or driving records.
Motorcyclists continue to follow case
Like many members of Vancouver Island’s motorcycling community, Bobbi Bjornholt has been following Tracy Dawn Smith’s story closely.
Bjornholt rode with Janarthan Mahenthiran and has been in contact with his family since the crash that killed him.
“We all recognize that it could have been any one of us that died that day,” Bjornholt said.
After what she described as an emotional day in court, Bjornholt continues to believe that a proper punishment is needed for Smith to discourage other drivers from making a similar decision to drive while drunk or high.
“It’s put all of us motorcyclists on edge,” Bjornholt said. “Knowing that people are on the road in the state that she was in is terrifying.”