As Tenessa Nikirk cried silently in the front row of a Victoria courthouse, Leila Bui, tracheostomy tube in her throat, slept in her wheelchair surrounded by her grieving family.
The scene was a stark reminder of the dangers of texting and driving.
Minutes earlier, provincial court Judge Mayland McKimm found Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, an offence that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
On Dec. 20, 2017, the Victoria woman was speeding and texting as she approached the marked crosswalk at the intersection of Ash Road and Torquay Drive. She hit 11-year-old Leila, who was crossing the road on her way to school.
Although McKimm’s decision was a relief for Leila’s parents, Kairry and Tuan Bui, it doesn’t change the fact that Leila is the way she is now, Leila’s tearful mother said outside court.
“I’m just glad it’s over and maybe it will deter the next person when they are driving,” said Kairry, looking at her sleeping daughter, now 13.
“It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard.”
The Bui family isn’t hoping Nikirk, 23, will go to jail or lose her licence. They simply want her to reflect on her carelessness and to be truly sorry for what happened.
“That’s all I want to know, that she’s truly sorry that she did this to our daughter. That would be good enough for me,” said Kairry.
“Last time I spoke to her was the day when she hit Leila. … She came up and said: ‘I’m so sorry. Your daughter just came up and ran in front of my car.’ And that’s all I remember.”
In Monday’s decision, McKimm found that Leila had waited at the crosswalk and looked both ways before entering the intersection.
“Today is confirmation to me and gave me some comfort that we did teach her right and she is a smart girl,” said Kairry. “It’s not her fault. So where it goes from here is not of huge importance to me. What’s important is Leila, our family and just moving forward. There’s still a long way to go and that’s all we’re going to focus on.”
Deciding whether to bring Leila to court was difficult, she said, but in the end, they decided to bring her.
“We just wanted her to be present and to let Tenessa also see, everybody see, this is the result,” said Kairry.
“And we are one of the luckier ones because we could have lost her completely. She might not have been here with us today, and we’re just grateful that she’s here with us.”
Leila needs round-the-clock care, said her father.
“She has a long way to go,” he said, gently rubbing her arm.
The family continues to hope that one day Leila will recover. In the meantime, Kairry said she would feel better if Nikirk talked to them and said she was sorry.
“If she was just genuinely sorry, that would be enough for me,” said Kairry, her voice shaking. “Because as horrific as it is, it is an accident. I know she didn’t intend to get in her car that day and run over a kid and so it is an accident. But if it was me, I would go to the parents and I would say: ‘I’m truly sorry.’ But she didn’t. And I can’t read what’s going on in her mind. I don’t know if her emotions are because she was found guilty. I’m not going to comment on that at all. I’m just happy that it’s over.”
Leila’s father thanked the Crown and the witnesses who came forward and testified.
“We just want to thank our family for being there for us every step of the way, and the community. The support by the community has been overwhelming,” said Tuan.
“And if anything good can come out of this, her case, we’ll set the bar. We’ll hopefully determine what is harmful driving, what is excessive speeding. Leila would be happy to know that she actually helped change behaviour to provide that this won’t ever happen again.”
When you get in your car, put your phone away, said Kairry.
“Nothing is more important than a life ... I encourage drivers when they are out there to pay attention. Be careful. Don’t be on your phone. Please don’t let this happen to another child or anybody else,” she said tearfully. “It’s devastating for the family, very devastating. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”