Victim's mother says drunk driving charge was wrongly dropped in fatal UBC crash case

RICHMOND, B.C. — The mother of a young man killed by a speeding driver on the University of British Columbia campus says the criminal justice system "leaves victims in the dust," after her son's killer was sentenced to three years in jail on Tuesday.

Debbie O'Day-Smith's son Evan Smith and fellow University of B.C. student Emily Selwood were hit and killed by a vehicle driven by Tim Goerner on Sept. 26, 2021.

Goerner was originally charged with impaired driving causing death, but those charges were dropped and he pleaded guilty last month to dangerous driving causing death.

A two-day sentencing hearing in provincial court in Richmond, B.C., concluding Tuesday.

A joint submission from the defence and Crown prosecutor said Goerner, 23, should serve three years in jail and be banned from driving for five years.

Provincial court Judge Glenn Lee accepted the submission, ruling that the punishment was in line with similar cases in the past.

He told the court that Goerner will still be young when his sentence is done and he can then spread a message to people about the dangers of drinking and driving dangerously.

"This can be your role in giving back to society," Lee told Goerner on Tuesday. "I really encourage you to do that."

Lee told Goerner that young people will listen to his cautionary tale because he too was once like them, a carefree youth with a bright future, derailed by a horrible decision with catastrophic consequences.

"If your words stop even one person from making the same devastating choice that you made, then that will help you in your healing," Lee said.

But O'Day-Smith said outside the courthouse after the hearing concluded that Goerner's original impaired driving charges shouldn't have been dropped.

“The absence of the two alcohol-related charges speaks volumes to me, and it should to you too,” she said. “I’m upset that the charge of driving with the blood alcohol concentration over .08 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 original charges, "because it's the right thing to do."

“Any apology outside of that is merely lip service,” she said, standing next to her husband, Adam Smith.

The court heard Goerner, an international student from Australia, had been drinking at a party before the high-speed crash that killed Selwood and Smith as they walked down a sidewalk on the university campus in the early morning hours. Both were 18 years old and had just started at the university weeks earlier.

Goerner sobbed during emotional victim impact statements from the parents of the victims at Monday's sentencing hearing, then told the court that he will reflect on his wrongdoing for the rest of his life.

O'Day-Smith said outside court on Tuesday that she feels the legal system "skews too heavily toward the rights of the accused, leaving the victims in the dust.”

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

Judge Lee wished Goerner “good luck” before he was led away in handcuffs by sheriffs. His mother broke down in tears as Goerner was taken from the courtroom.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2023.

Darryl Greer, The Canadian Press