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Criminal system skews 'too heavily' to accused: mother of UBC student killed by driver

The case was "extremely tragic, devastating, heartbreaking" and a result of "dangerous driving after consuming alcohol," says Richmond judge.

Parents of a young UBC student who was killed by a driver are disappointed that he was not convicted of alcohol-related charges.

"I feel the criminal legal system as it is skews too heavily towards the rights of the accused, leaving victims in the dust," said Debbie O'Day-Smith, mother of Evan Smith.

"After Tim Goerner's sentence is complete, and he gets on with his life, my beautiful son Evan Smith will still be dead. That is our life sentence."

It was a sombre moment in Richmond Provincial Court as Tim Carl Robert Goerner was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom after being sentenced to three years for killing Smith and Emily Selwood, both UBC students, in 2021.

Goerner had pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving causing death in relation to the 2021 accident and was sentenced on Tuesday, Nov. 7, after hearing from the victims' families during an emotional sentencing hearing on Monday.

His mother sobbed as his father held her in his arms.

Goerner was originally charged with counts related to impaired driving in addition to dangerous driving.

In a statement to the press, Smith's mother, Debbie O'Day-Smith, said she was "upset that the charge of driving with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08 causing death was dropped."

"If Tim Goerner's (blood alcohol content) was below the legal limit, that charge would not have been laid in the first place."

She said Goerner should have pleaded guilty to the charge because it was "the right thing to do," and any apology outside of that was "merely lip service."

Tragedy was result of 'dangerous driving after consuming alcohol': Judge

Richmond Provincial Court judge Glenn Lee sentenced Goerner to three years in jail and a five-year driving prohibition, in agreement with the sentence jointly proposed by prosecution and defence.

"The facts of this case are extremely tragic, devastating, heartbreaking, and a result of dangerous driving after consuming alcohol," said judge Glenn Lee.

"Every dangerous driving case causing death is tragic, heartbreaking and could have been so avoided. And this case is certainly all of that."

While giving his reasons for the sentence, judge Lee noted that case law shows the penalty for dangerous driving causing death in B.C. is between 18 months and six years in jail. 

He referred to the victim impact statements from the families of Selwood and Smith, which were "absolutely heartbreaking to read" and showed the "devastating impact" of their losses.

"Emily Selwood is described by all as a very kind and compassionate woman. ... She was a beautiful daughter, sibling, niece and friend," said Lee.

"Evan Smith is also described as an outstanding person. Curious, intelligent, hardworking, conscientious with humour and kindness that touches all who he met. ... He was described as a wonderful son, brother, nephew, friend, person.

"He, too, was an outstanding student about to embark on an exciting future filled with so much promise."

Selwood's mother, Laurie Selwood, had told the court on Monday that the impact of her loss is "forever."

"Grief is lonely. No one tells you so. I have never felt so alone. It feels like we have been given a life sentence of sadness," she said.

O'Day-Smith recalled her son's perseverance in canoeing up the Missinaibi River when he was 17.

"I think about that when a wave of grief hits me so hard it stops me in my tracks," she told the court.

"I continue on because I have to."

Goerner also addressed the court and the victims' families as well and apologized for his actions.

"I have only myself and my own behaviour to blame for this tragedy," he said.

Deportation after jail sentence

Judge Lee said it would be an "understatement" to describe the sentiments of the victims' families as heartbreaking and devastating.

"The lives of two outstanding young persons were needlessly taken away by the actions of Mr. Goerner on that early morning," he said.

He said Goerner's offence was of a high gravity given his choices at the time of the incident.

Aggravating factors considered by judge Lee include the fact that Goerner consumed alcohol before getting behind the wheel, drove at high speed around a dangerous corner, causing the deaths of two young adults, his one prior record of speeding and the devastating impact on the victims' families.

He also referred to mitigating factors including Goerner's guilty plea, his expression of remorse, the fact that he took responsibility for the grave harm he had done, his lack of criminal record, the fact that he was a young man who showed a desire to give back to the community in the past, support for him from the community and his efforts in rehabilitation.

Goerner will spend three years in jail and be banned from driving for five years.

Since he is a dual citizen of Germany and Australia and has been staying in Canada on a student visa, Goerner will be deported by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) upon completion of his jail sentence.

His chances of successfully reapplying to re-enter Canada are "uncertain at best," according to his lawyer.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 2021, Goerner struck Selwood and Smith - who were walking home after playing ping pong - from behind on the sidewalk of Southwest Marine Drive when he failed to navigate a left curve.

He then struck a street lamp and a boulder, went airborne, and stopped after hitting a parked vehicle.

Selwood and Smith were pronounced dead shortly after 2 a.m.

Goerner was driving back to UBC in his BMW after attending a house party in Vancouver, where he consumed alcohol.

He was going between 100 to 120 kilometres per hour in a 40 kilometre-per-hour zone, according to the Crown prosecutor, and alcohol was found in his blood.

Goerner, 21 at the time, was an international student, and Selwood and Smith had started their first year of university three weeks prior.

Judge Lee told Goerner that although he accepted Goerner's remorse as genuine, there was nothing he could do or say to bring Selwood and Smith back.

"Their lives were taken from them and from their communities by a horrible decision and choice that you made. Your life has changed forever," said Lee.

"You will be spending some time in custody, it will likely be quite difficult, particularly given your background and not ever having spent a day in custody."

However, said judge Lee, Goerner will have the support of his family and he will "still be a young man" when he is released.

He asked that Goerner play a role in raising awareness against drinking and driving dangerously.

"We often hear from victims' families to ensure that the message against drinking and driving dangerously is never forgotten, yet way too often, we hear of cases of tragic tragedies," he said.

"It is this court's hope that once you have completed your time in custody, as you integrate back into society, that you do your best to ensure that those messages against drinking and driving dangerously be known to the public so that this never happens again."