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)

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

“Often times 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

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

Photo:  Black Press Media
Greater Trail RCMP urge locals to stay off the roads

By noon there were four commercial tractor trailers stuck on hills in the Trail area

Katrine Conroy’s swearing in ceremony. Photo: Kootenay West Katrine Conroy Facebook
Forestry Minister West Kootenay MLA Katrine Conroy talks about her new role

Conroy will also oversee Columbia Basin Trust, Columbia Power Corporation and Columbia Basin Treaty

RNG plant
Construction on ground-breaking RNG plant in Fruitvale set to go in spring 2021

REN Energy partners with Calgary engineering firm for innovative West Kootenay gas plant

Seven Deers carved Shinning Raven Woman out of Labradorite harvested from the Canadian Shield. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Sculpture by Indigenous artist to be erected in Grand Forks

Civic leaders have rallied behind the project by Grand Forks’ David Seven Deers

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Most Read