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Toronto Toronto man’s three-month hit-and-run sentence enrages cycling advocates

Gita Samson, left, and Uri Samson, parents of Tom Samson, leave court in Toronto on Dec. 21.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A Toronto driver who killed a cyclist and fled will serve three months in jail, a sentence that outraged cycling advocates and had his family vowing to push for a change to the law.

Miguel Oliveira, 25, was sentenced on Tuesday to six months for failing to remain at the scene of a crash. The judge cut that in half in recognition of restrictions he had been living under since being arrested and released on bail. The sentence will be served on weekends and, because of a quirk in how the time is counted, will be done in about 15 weeks.

"The length of the sentence does not impact us, as it will not bring back our son. However, it will impact other families because the killer Miguel Oliveira will soon be on the road again," said Uri Samson, the father of Tom Samson, an elementary school teacher who leaves a widow and two young children.

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The family will turn their efforts to getting the law amended to include a mandatory minimum sentence for leaving the scene of a crash.

"Such a law would send a strong message to drivers, that failing to remain at the scene of a crash and provide potentially life-saving assistance to the victim is a repugnant act," the father said. "Such conduct must be harshly punished in order to ensure that others never contemplate a similar crime."

Tom Samson's widow is also pursuing a civil suit. And the family is pushing for changes to the way crashes involving vulnerable road users are investigated, noting that they had to hire a lawyer to probe the case after police erroneously blamed the cyclist for going through a red light.

"This doesn't send a strong enough message. Drivers can get away with [it], police don't take the investigation seriously and justice hasn't been done," said Tammy Thorne, publisher of the bicycle magazine Dandyhorse.

"Why does he get to drive again? He killed someone. Why does he get his licence back? Why does he get his life back? The family's never going to get their life back."

Superior Court Justice Faye McWatt made it clear in her written reasons, parts of which were read in court, that Mr. Oliveira was being sentenced purely for leaving the scene of the incident, and not for the crash itself.

"Although some of the content of the victim impact statements may have suggested the defendant caused the death of the victim, it is not a factor that I have found or considered in this sentencing," she said, although she also noted how his fleeing became an aggravating factor for the family.

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"The family of Tom Samson has suffered emotionally and financially and still does not know what happened during the accident because Mr. Oliveira left the scene."

According to the agreed statement of facts, on an early morning in November of 2012, Mr. Oliveira struck the 35-year-old Tom Samson on his way to work. The popular Grade 2 teacher was "at zero or very slow velocity" on his bicycle, in the turning lane of the intersection at Davenport Road and Lansdowne Avenue in Toronto's west end. It is not known publicly why Mr. Oliveira hit him.

The impact sent Mr. Samson flying back off his bicycle, causing "very significant damage" to the hood and windshield of Mr. Oliveira's vehicle. Mr. Samson was then thrown into the path of an oncoming vehicle, which struck him as well. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The other driver stayed at the scene, but Mr. Oliveira fled, leaving debris from his minivan strewn on the road. He returned to his residence, stashed the vehicle in his garage and continued to work. He turned himself in 40 hours later, by which time, the statement of facts noted, police were closing in on him.

Justice McWatt said Mr. Oliveira's surrender counted in his favour, as did his guilty plea and the fact that, apart from driving infractions, he had a clean record.

Mr. Oliveira was ordered to report to prison at 7 on Friday evening, beginning this weekend, and will be released at 5 in the morning the following Monday. Because of the way the system measures time served, each of those 58-hour spans will count as four days toward his sentence.

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He must also perform 240 hours of community service and not drive for two years.

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