The family of a Surrey man who died last summer after being run over by a pickup truck in the Chilliwack River Valley is devastated the driver, who left the scene and didn't return, has been sentenced to a $350 fine and won't face a driving prohibition.
On Aug. 4, 2012, 29-year-old Graheme Johnstone's Chevy Silverado collided head on with a pocket motorcycle being ridden by Eric O'Hern on the Chipmunk Creek Forestry Service Road near the Chipmunk Peninsula Campground. Johnstone stopped and got out of his truck briefly after the crash, according to witnesses, but then drove off, leaving others at the scene to attend to O'Hern, who lay on the dirt road with massive head trauma and internal bleeding that led to his death at Royal Columbian Hospital six days later.
"Graheme Johnstone hit Eric with his truck so hard that the nurses in ICU had mistakenly thought that Eric had been hit by a logging truck," O'Hern's mother Norma Carstens said in a victim impact statement Thursday. "I've asked myself over and over again, what kind of person could hit someone that hard and hurt someone that badly and drive away?" Johnstone, a Surrey resident, called 9-1-1 two and a half hours after the crash and later told police he had left the scene to find cellphone service so he could call for help.
He turned himself in after driving home to Surrey.
Johnstone pleaded guilty in Chilliwack Provincial Court Oct. 23 to leaving the scene of the accident contrary to the BC Motor Vehicle Act.
More than a dozen members of O'Hern's family were on hand for Johnstone's sentencing last Wednesday and Thursday. In emotional victim
impact statements they described the 26-year-old, six-foot-seven-inch O'Hern as a "gentle giant" who had had his whole life ahead of him.
Already a Red Seal auto technician, he was on his way to becoming a journeyman electrician as well.
Before his death last August long weekend, he had already bought his
mom a Christmas present and his brother Anthony O'Hern a gift for his upcoming birthday.
"I taught Eric how to shoot a hockey ball," Anthony O'Hern said. "I used to be Wayne and he used to be Garth."
O'Hern's best friend Ronald Meek, who was with him at the time of the accident, called
Johnstone's actions after the crash "selfish and cowardly," and other family members referred to Johnstone as "the man who killed Eric." Johnstone's lawyer Robert Gunnell, however, pointed out his client had not been charged with dangerous
driving, dangerous driving causing death or even the lesser charge of driving without undue care and attention. A police accident reconstruction concluded O'Hern had been riding on the wrong side of the road when he was hit.
Johnstone had originally been charged with hit and run under the Criminal Code, but the Crown later opted to proceed under the Motor Vehicle Act because there wasn't enough evidence to prove Johnstone had left the scene to evade civil or criminal liability.
"We proceeded under the Motor Vehicle Act as that seem to best fit the facts we were able to establish beyond a reasonable doubt," Crown counsel Paul Blessin said.
Blessin called for a $500 fine and a driving prohibition for Johnstone.
Gunnell asked for a $350 fine, stating there should be "absolutely no driving prohibition whatsoever."
In giving his reasons for the $350 fine, judge Roger Cutler sympathized with O'Hern's family, calling their victim impact statements "heart wrenching" and O'Hern's death "tragic and horrific."
"Sadly the court can not alter the wrong which has occurred," Cutler said.
He noted Johnstone was not accused of driving improperly at the time of the accident and that he was not accused of leaving the scene for "any nefarious reasons."
To support his sentence, Cutler cited the isolated site of the accident, lack of cellphone service, the fact others were already attending to the injured O'Hern, Johnstone's eventual 9-1-1 call and his full statement to police after turning himself.
But O'Hern's family and friends, including his girlfriend Debbie Smith, who was among the first on the scene after the accident, were angered by the decision.
"I feel like they failed us," Smith said.
© Copyright 2013