Drivers fined $1,600 for Burnaby crash that killed 14-year-old Fernanda Girotto

The Brazilian exchange student's older sister says she feels guilty for not being with her that morning.

Sisters are supposed to grow old and live through the milestones of life together, but that’s something one older sister says she lost forever after a momentary lapse in attention by two drivers on a dark and rainy Burnaby morning just over two-and-a-half years ago.

“I have forever lost the love, comfort and support of my sister’s companionship,” said Ana Girotto, the sister of 14-year-old Fernanda Girotto, a Brazilian exchange student struck and killed while walking in a crosswalk on Cariboo Road on Jan. 17, 2018.

In a victim impact statement read out in Vancouver provincial court by Crown prosecutor Geordie Proulx last week, Ana Girotto, who was 16 years old at the time of the accident, said she feels guilty for not having walked to school with her little sister that day.

“I was feeling unwell and stayed at home,” she said. “I often think that, had I been with her that day, she would still be alive.”

The two sisters had come to Canada from Brazil just a few weeks earlier for an exchange program to improve their English.

They were staying with a family at a complex near Cariboo Road.

pedestrian fatality
Emergency crews attend the site of the crash on Cariboo Road that killed 14-year-old Brazilian exchange student Fernanda Girotto in January 2018 - NOW FILES

Their mother, Rosana Girotto, said she was supposed to have seen her two daughters again in a few weeks.

“It is impossible for any words to articulate the grief that comes with losing a child,” she wrote in her victim impact statement.

Her husband, Luiz Girotto, said his own grief has been doubled by having to watch his wife and oldest daughter suffer.

“I feel helpless, as I know there is nothing I can do to bring Fernanda back,” he wrote.

The statements were read out at the sentencing hearing last Thursday for two men, Paul Oliver Wong and Kai Man Cheu, who had been found guilty of driving without due care and attention in Girotto’s death.

Both men had been driving to work at around 7 a.m. on Cariboo Road near the Highway 1 overpass.

Girotto was hit first by Wong’s pickup truck and then by Cheu’s sedan as she lay injured in the crosswalk.

Cheu had driven around Wong’s stopped vehicle before hitting her.

There was no evidence speed or alcohol had been factors.

Proulx said Cheu should be fined $1,000 and be prohibited from driving for a year.

But Wong should get a $2,000 fine and a two-year driving prohibition, Proulx said, because his driving record, which included two distracted driving convictions in 2014 and 2016, was “a serious aggravating factor.”

B.C. provincial court Judge David St. Pierre disagreed.

He began his reasons for sentence by reminding the court that he had found the men guilty of only a “momentary lapse in their duty of care in driving.”

“Was the driving rash and reckless? No. Was there speeding or evidence of a lengthy period of negligent driving? There was not,” St. Pierre said.

“It is very easy to lose sight of these facts given the overwhelmingly emotional nature of the tragedy that occurred when Miss Girotto lost her young life.”

St. Pierre said it was inaccurate to call Wong’s driving record a serious aggravating factor, since his distracted driving convictions were both for incidents where his vehicle was stopped at intersections, and he’d only had three speeding tickets since 1988 – the latest in 2003.

St. Pierre called the accident “unbelievably sad” but described the two men as otherwise “exemplary citizens in the community.”

In the end, he ordered them both to pay a $1,600 fine.

St. Pierre asked Proulx to pass on his condolences to the Girotto family.

“I never forget these cases,” he said.

In their victim impact statements, both of Fernanda Girotto’s parents said they hoped their daughter’s death would not be in vain and that the trial would convince people to drive more carefully.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
Email cnaylor@burnabynow.com

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