The mother of a University of British Columbia student who died when she and a friend were struck by an out-of-control SUV on campus told court all the noise and laughter have drained from her Victoria home, to be replaced by a painful and uncomfortable silence.
Laurie Selwood was one of six family members and friends of her daughter, Emily Selwood, and Evan Smith who attempted to explain to a Richmond Provincial Court judge on Monday morning how they were affected by the deaths of the 18-year-olds. Tim Goerner has pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing their deaths as the two teens walked through campus in September, 2021.
Ms. Selwood told the hearing that it took her six months to work up the nerve to walk down her own street, and that even chatting with her closest neighbours became awkward.
Debbie O’Day-Smith, Evan Smith’s mother, said she draws strength from the perseverance he showed during a brief life punctuated with many rock-climbing and hiking adventures. She told the court the Mississauga teen once recounted how he had no other option but to continue paddling a canoe during a freezing rainstorm as he journeyed up the Missinaibi River to the frigid waters of James Bay.
“I think about that when a wave of grief hits me so hard it stops me in my tracks,” she said.
While the families spoke, Mr. Goerner, a 23-year-old dual Australian-German citizen who studied chemical engineering at UBC, sat with his own parents in the first row of the gallery behind him – all three visibly shaken by what they were hearing.
Crown prosecutor Daniel Pruim asked the judge to sentence Mr. Goerner to three years in prison and a five-year prohibition on driving. Mr. Goerner’s lawyer agreed with that punishment and noted that it is expected his client, a temporary resident of Canada, will be deported once he serves his criminal sentence.
The judge will issue his decision on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Goerner was also initially charged with impaired driving after speeding his BMW SUV up to three times the legal speed limit in the early morning of Sept. 26, 2021, and losing control on an exterior road on the sprawling campus, the court heard. Mr. Goerner, who had bought the car three weeks earlier, jumped the curb and drove onto the sidewalk, hitting Ms. Selwood and Mr. Smith from behind as they walked back home from a social game of Ping-Pong with friends in one of the dormitories, the court heard.
Mr. Goerner had been drinking earlier that night at a house party outside of campus, according to the agreed statement of facts. Witnesses told police that after Mr. Goerner’s vehicle flipped and came to a stop against another car, he ran up to Ms. Selwood and held her hand as a bystander performed first aid. Another witness said, according to the statement read in court, that Mr. Goerner showed immediate regret and asked others to go check for another victim, saying: “I might have hit two people, can you please check?”
Defence lawyer Vincent Michaels told the court that his client struggled with suicidal thoughts in the months after the deaths. He remains in a state of depression, according to a forensic psychologist’s report after spending 60 hours with him.
Mr. Goerner obtained his engineering degree last August and was accepted to an MBA program last month, Mr. Michaels said, but has had to defer his studies until his criminal punishment is complete. He said his client will always carry this guilt with him but hopes to one day give back to the world through becoming a successful business consultant, like his father, who moved with his mother to Vancouver after his charges.
Near the end of the hearing, Mr. Goerner, dressed in a grey suit with a buzz cut, rose to address the judge and families of the people he killed.
“I do not expect my apology to ever be accepted,” he said. “I want you to know though I’m filled with shame, sorrow and regret at causing the death of Emily Selwood and Evan Smith.”
Duncan Selwood, Emily Selwood’s father, told the court he feels his own shame for the anger and spite he reserves for the young man, whom he hopes feels lonely and afraid after what he’s done.
Mr. Selwood expressed how harbouring these feelings makes him feel like he is letting down his youngest daughter, a compassionate and bubbly teen from Victoria whose childhood bedroom had its walls adorned with the motto: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”