Prison term for driver who killed grandmother in hit-and-run

Mary Hendriksen's husband has spent nearly every day of the last year haunted by the image of her death.

"My days have been long, but my nights have been longer," Theo Hendriksen said Wednesday at the sentencing of Brandon Nairn, who pleaded guilty to killing Mary in a fatal hit-and-run on Nov. 9, 2021.

"When I do sleep, I wake up with the same vision of Mary lying on the side of the road with our two-year-old grandson hugging her and our one-year-old grandson lying beside her, crying," he said.

The emotional toll of Mary's death was palpable in the Woodstock courtroom, which heard 19 victim impact statements, four read by loved ones, including Theo.

"Words cannot express how much we all miss her," he said tearfully, speaking to Ontario Court Justice Glen Donald, who appeared by video.

"She has become my hero and my family's hero for saving the lives of our two grandchildren and making sure no harm came to them in her final seconds of life. What an incredible and selfless woman she was that we were all so lucky to have in our lives."

The sentencing ended with Donald accepting the joint submission from the Crown and defence that Nairn be sentenced to nearly three years in prison, with credit for the 50 days he already had served.

Donald heard Nairn "panicked" and went home after he had struck the golf cart Mary Hendriksen, 60, was driving with her two grandkids near the end of her driveway on Zorra Township's 15th line, between Road 74 and McCarty Street. Hendriksen died later in hospital, but her grandkids survived.

Police tracked Nairn down soon after and he was arrested and charged with failing to stop at an accident causing death.

The 36-year-old, who suffers from a genetic condition that leads to heart problems, had an ill father and was experiencing "a lot of upheaval in his life" at the time of the crash, his defence lawyer Ryan Venables said, cautioning it was still "no excuse" for such a tragedy.

He said his client doesn't recall "the specifics of how or why the accident happened. He indicates to me that he certainly didn't realize that it was a golf cart."

But what led him to enter a guilty plea, Venables said, is Nairn's acceptance of the fact he was aware "he was involved in a collision of some sort, whether it was a mailbox or another vehicle."

During the sentencing, Donald said he was skeptical of Nairn's explanation, particularly about hitting a mailbox.

"Rhetorically, I wonder, why then the panic? I might have thought that a heart transplant recipient may have had a stronger sense of community. However, that was not the case here either," he said.

Still, Donald said he accepted that Nairn, a father of two with no criminal record, showed remorse to the Hendriksen family through a letter read by his lawyer.

The court heard from several loved ones of Hendriksen that she was a loving mother to four kids, wife, sister, aunt, mother-in-law, grandmother, neighbour and friend.

In an impact statement written in the form of a poem and read by Assistant Crown attorney Jonny Melo, Amy Dimmers said her mom was someone who found joy in the simplest of things and was always the first to lend a helping hand.

"My mom had a beautiful heart that was so kind and so true. She lived her life with strength, compassion and love, just to name a few," Dimmers wrote.

Hendrikson's son, Stephen, said losing her left a hole in many of their lives that can never be filled.

"I would give anything to have one more family dinner with her, one more conversation, one more hug. Or watch her play with my kids one more time," he wrote.

"She's a hero to all of them. And the only comfort I have is knowing that they all have her as a guardian angel watching over them."

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press