Dangerous driver ordered to write essay on struggles of quadriplegic victim

PENTICTON — As part of a highly personalized plea deal, the man responsible for a head-on collision that left a Victoria woman a quadriplegic three years ago will have to write an essay detailing the effects the crash has had on the victim’s life.

Silous Jay-Aspen Paul, 22, pleaded guilty to one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm in connection with the July 2017 crash on Highway 97 near Vaseux Lake in the south Okanagan. He was sentenced Friday in B.C. Supreme Court in Penticton to a nine-month jail term, followed by one year of probation.

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During that probation period, Paul will have to watch a video created by the family of Laurie Hamm that shows her struggles in daily life since the crash, then write an essay that satisfies his probation officer.

The essay requirement was suggested by Crown counsel Nashina Devji as part of a joint submission with defence counsel “in order to instil a sense of responsibility in the offender.”

Justice Alison Beames also ordered Paul to complete 50 hours of community service — at a rehabilitation facility, if possible — to get “an even better appreciation of the harm your actions have caused to the victims in this case.”

Finally, Paul, who is a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band, will have to participate in a restorative justice program with the victims.

Court heard that first responders detected the odour of liquor on Paul at the crash scene and found an empty bottle in his car. A blood sample taken at the hospital showed Paul’s blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit, although he was not charged with impaired driving.

In agreeing to sentence Paul according to the joint submission, Beames cited Paul’s otherwise “pro-social and productive life,” family support, lack of prior criminal record and guilty plea. She also noted that judges can only reject joint submissions if they would bring the justice system into disrepute.

Court heard Hamm and her husband were among four ­occupants of a pickup truck that collided head-on with Paul’s car, a Chrysler 300, on a hairpin turn where the posted speed limit is 40 km/h. Paul’s erratic driving, which included passing vehicles on a double-solid line, was the ­subject of at least two calls to 911 in the minutes before the crash at about 8:30 a.m.

Investigators later determined that Paul’s car was travelling between 55 and 82 km/h and had drifted 2.5 metres into the oncoming lane when it collided with the truck.

Paul, his passenger and the others in the pickup with Hamm also suffered injuries, including broken bones and whiplash, but none as serious as Hamm’s.

“My life relies 100 per cent on the care provided by others, including paid staff, my husband, my children and my friends,” Hamm, who had just retired from her job as a vice-principal at View Royal Elementary at the time of the crash, said in her victim-impact statement.

“All personal dignity, privacy and modesty are completely gone. I’m a private person and grieve the loss of my personal autonomy.”

Hamm said she’s constantly in pain and misses simple ­pleasures, like holding her grandchildren and gardening.

“I’m living a life I’ve not chosen for myself. I’m bearing the brunt of the consequence of another person’s actions,” said Hamm. “I feel cheated.”

Defence counsel Don Skogstad told the court that his client “after a night of drinking with some friends” awoke to a phone call alerting him a cousin had died by suicide in Penticton.

“Overcome with grief, he set aside his good judgment, got in the car with [another] cousin, coming [to Penticton] to deal with that situation as soon as he could get here,” Skogstad said.

“It was an explanation. It was not an excuse. And there’s no doubt the matter has troubled him greatly.”

The lawyer argued his client wasn’t driving unreasonably fast, given the circumstances, and that the crash was at “the sharpest curve in the Okanagan Valley, for sure, if not in the southern Interior.”

Paul, who was an Osoyoos Indian Band youth ambassador in 2016 and has worked for band-owned businesses since he was 12, apologized to the victims, who attended court via videoconference.

“I did a thoughtless act that did a great deal of harm to these other people,” he said. “I’m sincerely, sincerely sorry for the damage I’ve caused to these victims. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not going to repeat anything like this ever again.

“It’s very hard. It’s very hard. I’m sorry.”

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