A Kamloops man will spend three years in jail after pleading guilty to the hit-and-run deaths of three Nigerian students whose car was struck on First Avenue two years ago.
Reid McKnight, 33, was sentenced on Friday, Dec. 3, in B.C. Supreme Court on charges of failure to stop at an accident involving death and dangerous driving causing three deaths in connection to the Nov. 3, 2019 collision.
Justice Kathleen Ker accepted a joint submission on sentencing for McKnight to serve three years in prison, followed by a three-year driving ban once released, presented by defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen and Crown prosecutor Chris Balison.
McKnight had also been charged with careless use of a firearm and improper storage of a firearm — stemming from a search of his home the day after the crash — but those charges were stayed by the Crown.
Killed in the early-morning crash were Daniel Okocha, 22, Feyisola Adebowale, 28, and Oluwatosin Adeojo, 31, of of whom were international students at Thompson Rivers University. A fourth passenger of their red Dodge Charger sedan survived the collision with McKnight’s blue Ford Ranger pickup truck.
Emergency crews were called to the intersection of Battle Street and First Avenue at about 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 3, 2019, after the truck collided with the car.
In an agreed statement of facts, court heard McKnight was going more than double the 50 km/speed limit as he sped through a stop sign westbound on Battle Street, T-boning the southbound Dodge Charger as it travelled the speed limit south (uphill) on First Avenue.
The Dodge Charger subsequently struck a power pole and sustained “catastrophic damage” in the crash, Balison said, adding the stop sign McKnight ran was clear and visible.
“In the five seconds before the impact of the collision, Mr. McKnight accelerated to a speed of 110 kilometres per hour. There was no braking recorded until 0.2 seconds before impact,” Balison said.
From the back seat, Adebowale was ejected from the car’s rear window and died of severe head trauma. Okocha, who was the other backseat passenger, was pinned inside the car and died of severe trauma to his head and upper body. Neither man had any vital signs of life when residents attended the scene seconds after hearing the crash. Adeojo, who was driving, was unresponsive, but alive at the scene. He passed away in hospital a week later.
McKnight immediately fled the scene on foot, court heard.
Balison said data obtained from McKnight’s vehicle showed he was speeding around town leading up to the collision.
In McKnight’s severely damaged vehicle were several pieces of ID, including a credit card, and cellphone. McKnight’s DNA was also found on his vehicle’s spent airbag and driver’s-side door handle.
Police went to a home in Guerin Creek later that day and arrested McKnight, who was the vehicle’s registered owner. He had injuries consistent with a motor-vehicle crash, was sent to Royal Inland Hospital for assessment and later taken to cells at the Battle Street police detachment. McKnight was subsequently released and it would be another 10 months before he was charged.
Judge finds joint submission to be fair
Ker was not bound to accept the proposed three-year sentence, but found it was within the accepted range for such offences and balanced the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case.
Aggravating factors were the speed and manner of McKnight’s driving, as well as the fact he caused more than one death, while mitigating circumstances were McKnight’s guilty plea, which saved considerable court time, his military service and lack of criminal record.
The typical range for sentencing is 18 months to six years, but the maximum sentence available for McKnight’s offences is life in prison, court heard. McKnight was handed two years for dangerous driving causing death and one year for failing to stop at the scene, to be served consecutively. In addition to the driving prohibition, he is barred from owning weapons for 10 years.
McKnight, notwithstanding some issues that could have arisen at trial, wanted to accept full responsibility and knows his punishment pales in comparison to the harm he caused, Jensen said.
The defence lawyer said McKnight fleeing the scene and driving recklessly are “the antithesis of who he is and where his core values lie.”
Addressing the court himself, wearing a blue suit, black tie and white shirt, McKnight apologized for his actions, but provided no explanation for them.
“I’m profoundly sorry and I’m here to take full responsibility for my actions,” McKnight said.
He appeared calm and showed little emotion throughout the court proceedings.
Ker said she accepts that McKnight feels remorse for his actions and that the incident will hang over him the rest of his life, noting his moral blameworthiness as he undoubtedly realized the harm he did when he left the scene.
“The tragedy of this case is the lives of three promising young men who had come to this country to study at university in Kamloops has been needlessly taken by Mr. McKnight’s exceedingly dangerous driving,” Ker said. Family members distraught, civil suits proceeding
According to police, the four Nigerian students had spent the evening before the accident in downtown Kamloops and were using a designated driver to get themselves home.
A few family members of the victims appeared in court via video conference, but did not make statements.
Two victim impact statements, however, were read in court — one from the girlfriend of Okocha and one from the mother of Adeojo.
Okocha’s girlfriend said she blames herself for not stopping him from going out that day and now suffers from depression. Adeojo’s mother said she lost her only son, whose father had also died six years earlier. She said she has been emotionally devastated and traumatized by the crash, leaving her lonely, isolated and frustrated.
The parents of Adebowale and Okocha each launched civil suits against McKnight on Oct. 28, seeking unspecified amounts in costs and damages.
Both lawsuits have named McKnight, the estate of Adeojo, who was driving and also died in the crash, and a John Doe, the registered owner of the students' vehicle, as defendants.
The lawsuits claim the collision and deaths were caused by negligence on the part of either, all or a combination of the defendants. McKnight is a full-time Canadian Armed Forces soldier and war veteran now serving with the Rocky Mountain Rangers.
Court heard McKnight believes he will be discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces upon his sentencing, but had continued to serve until this court date.
Born in Winnipeg, McKnight joined the Canadian Armed Forces when he was 18 years old.
He served nearly a year fighting in Afghanistan in light infantry and joined the Kamloops reserve unit in 2017 after 10 years of service.
He was off-duty at the time of the offences.
Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week