Crown and defence say driver should serve 3 years after killing two UBC students

RICHMOND, B.C. — The man who killed two University of British Columbia students in a high-speed crash sobbed in court as the mother of one of his victims described her grief as "woven into my DNA."

Tim Goerner was originally charged with two counts of impaired driving causing the 2021 deaths of pedestrians Evan Smith and Emily Selwood, both 18.

He pleaded guilty last month to two counts of dangerous driving causing death.

Smith's mother, Debbie O'Day-Smith, told the sentencing hearing in Richmond provincial court on Monday that her son was adventurous and made "an indelible mark on everyone he met."

“I don’t doubt he would’ve made a difference in this world," she said. "I miss everything about him."

Goerner later addressed the court and apologized to the victims' families.

“I have thought about what I want to say in this moment for two years now," Goerner said after taking a moment to compose himself. “I will have to reflect on my wrongdoings for the rest of my life.”

Goerner said his "avoidable and selfish" actions were solely to blame for Selwood and Smith's deaths.

Goerner's parents looked on as he read out the statement, his mother in tears as he described his guilt and remorse since the crash.

“It makes my heart ache to say that all I can do is pray," Goerner said. "From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry.”

Crown prosecutor Daniel Pruim said Goerner had alcohol in his system when he killed Smith and Selwood, and a joint submission from the Crown and the defence said Goerner should serve three years in jail, with a driving prohibition of five years.

Smith's mother said he had been accepted into every school he'd applied for, but chose the University of B.C. because it was a place he felt he could grow the most.

“You robbed me of my baby, my little boy,” she said, addressing Goerner across the courtroom. "If you are remorseful, prove it.”

She urged him to watch her son's funeral service online and said she expected "truth and accountability" from the young man.

The court heard Goerner, an international student from Australia, was drinking alcohol at a party the night of Sept. 25, 2021.

Early the next morning he was driving a BMW X3 on campus at speeds between 100 and 120 kilometres per hour in a 40 km/h zone.

Goerner hit a street lamp, then a boulder and his vehicle became airborne before running down the victims from behind.

Both Smith and Selwood were pronounced dead at the scene.

Goerner, dressed in a grey suit, sat in court with his head down, crying as he listened to victim impact statements from those who loved the teens.

Selwood's father, Duncan Selwood, told the court that their world "fell apart" the day of her death.

He said the emotional toll was like being "electrocuted" by jolts of fear, disbelief, sadness, anger and guilt that "knocked me to the ground.”

He said he can barely sleep since his daughter's death, and words of encouragement from others about things getting better or easier are unhelpful.

“They’re all wrong,” he said. “Hearing these words makes me so angry.”

He said he can no longer interact with people, telling the court that his daughter's death will "forever torment me."

“I’m in this bad place because of Tim Goerner,” he said, adding that any words of apology would be "insulting," "empty," or "meaningless."

“I hope this weighs on his soul,” he said. "I hope Tim Goerner's time in prison is hard."

Laurie Selwood told the court that she was "demolished" by the loss of their daughter, which left her a "shell" of her former self.

She said her daughter was the family's "bright light" who had just begun life at the university weeks before the incident. She recalled her husband "slumped over" and overcome with grief, and the "unimaginable" days that followed.

“All the hopes and dreams she had were gone,” she said. "Her whole future was taken away."

Goerner's lawyer, Vincent Michaels, told the court his client fell into a deep depression after the incident and became suicidal.

He said Goerner had been a top performing student, both athletically and academically, before being charged and pleading guilty in the deaths.

Michaels said the guilty plea avoided a lengthy trial, which he said could have resulted in an acquittal.

Michaels said that after the crash, Goerner was immediately "isolated, stigmatized and ostracized" by fellow students and some professors.

“He became a pariah overnight,” he said, adding that his client's depression continues to this day.

Goerner is scheduled to hear his sentence at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.

Darryl Greer, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the man was drunk, but the Crown says his blood-alcohol limit wasn't above the legal limit.