Two-year prison sentence for driver who struck girl is bittersweet, says girl's mother

Three years and one day after their young daughter was struck and critically injured by a distracted driver, Kairry Nguyen and Tuan Bui stood in the pouring rain outside the Victoria courthouse and urged people not to text and drive.

Moments earlier, they had watched Tenessa Nikirk shakily wipe away years after being sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary for dangerous driving causing bodily harm to their 11-year-old daughter Leila.

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“It’s bittersweet. We’re happy with the sentence,” said Nguyen. “That’s the only good thing that came out of this, is this sentencing. We want to deter the next person who gets into a car and thinks about texting or speeding, because this is what can happen. We’ve lived with it for three years and we’ll be living with it for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t change anything at our end. Leila is still the way she is.”

Provincial court Judge Mayland McKimm found Nikirk, 24, was texting and speeding as she approached the intersection of Ash Road and Torquay Drive on the morning of Dec. 20, 2017. She did not slow down and did not see the child in the middle of the crosswalk. Leila was thrown 26 metres before becoming wedged under an oncoming car. The right side of her brain was entirely destroyed and the left side is severely compromised. She requires help with her breathing.

The long journey through the court system finally ended Monday for the family. But Leila’s family has been damaged forever, said McKimm. In his judgment, he quoted Nyugen’s victim impact statement in which she said she had cried more in the last two-plus years than in her entire life combined.

“And the tears keep on coming, sometimes just sitting in my eyes, sometimes just a few drops, and sometimes just streaming down my face uncontrollably. … Without Leila, we will never be whole again. I will never be whole again, I miss her every day, every second and in every breath I take. Leila is a loud kid. The house seems eerily and sadly quieter without her. … Leila was an enormous ball of light and energy and affected everyone around her. I miss her glow, her warmth, her everything.”

The family will continue moving forward. The sentence has given them some closure and they continue holding onto hope that one day she will recover, said Nguyen.

“As long as she’s with us and she’s healthy and we keep advocating for all her needs, and just to make her comfortable and happy and just to have her with us is the most important thing,” said Nguyen.

Leila’s father Tuan Bui said he applauded the judge’s decision.

“He put into perspective the lifelong damage with the consequences of reckless behaviour,” said Bui. “We’re glad that it’s over. It’s finally over and now we can focus on the remedies for Leila so that she can have a quality life going forward. We don’t like to go to any more of these excruciating hearings. It’s behind us now and we look forward to an optimistic future for Leila.”

Crown prosecutor Jess Patterson said he hopes the sentence sends a strong message about texting and driving.

“People need to remember what an incredible responsibility it is to drive a car and the resulting carnage that can happen when you take that responsibility for granted. … This is a tragedy that will affect this family forever and it will impact Ms. Nikirk as well,” said Patterson.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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