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

Just Posted

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

Interior Health reports three additional COVID-19 cases in region

The number of cases in the region since the beginning of the pandemic are now at 492

COVID-19 minimizes Okanagan Regional Library budget increase

Library adapts to pandemic fiscal disruptions

Interior Health continues to tackle COVID-19

IH president Susan Brown says don’t become complacent about pandemic

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Squabble over mask policy at LUSH in Kelowna mall

The woman filmed the encounter at LUSH Cosmetics, where wearing a mask in-store is company policy

Cops For Kids ride wraps in Okanagan

No pomp, no circumstance for end of milestone 20th anniversary fundraising bicycle trip

Former Kelowna cop faces fourth lawsuit alleging sexual assault

Ex-Mountie Brian Mathew Burkett is also separately facing seven charges of breach of trust

Province opens ‘middle income’ housing in Kelowna

Prices on the units are $1300 for a one-bedroom and $1780 for a two-bedroom, nearing area-average prices

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Reward offered for return of Okanagan puppy

An 11-week-old boxer-mastiff cross pup was allegedly taken from its Kelowna Friday, Sept. 18

Most Read