A young man pushed and a young woman fell. In that moment, one life ended and another became forever stained.
Shortly before midnight on a February night, a downtown Victoria street was the scene of a noisy confrontation. That in itself was not unusual. The intersection of Quadra Street and Pandora Avenue, a hangout for street people, all too often resembles a horror from Dante’s Inferno.
The corner’s reputation had lured two men, one of whom sought to buy cocaine. They had been drinking. One was belligerent. Earlier in the night, he had kicked the exterior of a taxi cab after having been told to leave a bar.
At the corner, the attempt to buy drugs turned into chaos. The drunken would-be drug buyer removed his shirt to do battle. His friend urged him to abandon the corner with its “junkies” and “crackheads.”
This advice did not go over well.
In the ensuing exchange, a slight, 20-year-old woman — “our little waif,” in her mother’s words — was pushed into the street, where she was crushed beneath the rear wheels of a passing city bus.
On Friday, after two days of deliberation, a jury convicted Christopher Michael Groves, 23, of manslaughter. He had been the one who trailed his belligerent buddy to the corner. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
After the verdict was delivered, some news reports relied on standard journalistic shorthand to describe the victim.
Crack addict. Homeless woman.
That is how the perpetrator saw the situation that terrible night in 2009.
He fled the scene, retreating from angry witnesses who beat him, seeking refuge at the police station four blocks to the north. The officer who arrested him testified that he said, “OK, I didn’t do anything though. I’m a good kid. ... Some [expletive]crackhead tried to attack my friend, some [expletive]junkie.”
One of the sadder accounts can be found in a Times Colonist story from the trial about the testimony of a witness who was aboard the bus that ran over the woman. According to the newspaper, the witness called 911 with the following report: “A junkie ran under the bus and it wasn’t the bus’s fault.”
It should be noted that the street scene on Pandora is fuelled by middle-class drug users. Buy the product, denounce the vendor.
The unspoken verdict about crimes committed against street people is that they had it coming.
Ariana May Simpson was born on July 22, 1988. (The date seems so recent, yet Michael Dukakis had just been nominated by the Democrats, sprinter Ben Johnson was Canada’s Olympic hopeful, and Nelson Mandela still languished in a South African prison.) She was a third daughter for her family. Ariana attended elementary and high school in Esquimalt. She began hanging out on the street in her mid-teens.
In 1999, a trusted family friend was sentenced to a year in prison for sexual interference involving Ariana and others.
After her daughter’s death, Cindy Simpson, Ariana’s mother, wrote on Facebook about her “boiling anger for the man that hurt Ariana as a little girl – for years – without our knowledge.” It was him she wanted to see on trial for her death, for causing the pain that led her to the streets and a terrible fate.
At the corner where she died, her friends created a makeshift shrine in a planter bed. It held flowers and stuffed animals. A photograph of the smiling woman was stapled to a piece of cardboard. John Lennon lyrics were placed nearby, similarly protected from the elements by a plastic covering. Those who knew Harley, as she was known on the street and at the Our Place drop-in, were invited to write their condolences on an ordinary piece of cardboard torn from a box.
“I will always love you, my baby sister,” one of her sisters wrote.
The shrine is long gone, but in an eerie echo of our cyber age it can still be seen on Google Street View.
An artist painted her portrait on the wall of a bakery at the corner. It looked like one of those murals in tribute to a northern Irish martyr, only in this case the martial imagery is absent, replaced by butterflies, dogs and an eagle. The legend read, “Forever loved.” The portrait is now gone, too.
In memory, she will remain frozen at age 20, never to grow old. She was a young woman dealt a poor hand who wound up beneath a yellow tarp on a cold street, a victim yet again.