Sara Rosetta Thomas said she was “truly sorry” in a Duncan courtroom on Dec. 13 to the wife of the man who died in 2018 after she struck his vehicle head-on on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Facing Justine Tilley, who was also severely injured in the accident on the Malahat that killed her husband on June 9, 2018, a crying Thomas said it was never her intention to hurt anybody.
“Words can’t express how sorry I am,” she sobbed.
Thomas had faced numerous charges in relation to the crash, which killed 46-year-old David Tilley from Vancouver, including impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm and causing an accident resulting in death, but she pleaded guilty in October to driving without due care and attention, and both the Crown and defence agreed to her plea.
She was sentenced to a $1,000 fine and a one-year driving prohibition by Associate Chief Justice H. Holmes.
On the day of the accident, David Tilley was driving his Honda CR-V in the southbound lane of Highway 1 north of Aspen Road when then-29-year-old Thomas, the driver of a Dodge Grand Caravan heading north, crossed the centre line and struck the front driver’s side of the SUV.
Tilley was pronounced dead on scene and Justine, who was in the passenger seat, was taken to hospital with serious injuries.
A report at the time from the B.C. Coroners Service said that the crash occurred in an active construction zone where the posted speed limit had been reduced to 60 kilometres per hour and that Thomas was travelling at roughly 101 km/h when she collided with Tilley.
The report concluded that the Dodge Caravan’s entry into the southbound lane was as a result of “non-cognitive driving actions, such as medical distress, fatigue, distracted driving or impairment”.
In her victim impact statement in court on Dec. 13, which was one of four heard by the court, Justine Tilley said her husband was her best friend and partner for 27 years, and she is devastated with his loss emotionally, mentally and financially.
“He was the smartest man I’ve ever known,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
“He was a certified accountant and we went to Vancouver Island to celebrate after he received a big promotion at Telus, where he worked, and he was killed just three days after his promotion. A life taken at 46 is a tragedy a thousand times over and I continue to struggle without him.”
Looking at Thomas, Justine said her husband would have offered her mercy.
“I want you to know that I forgive you,” she said.
Crown prosecutor Paul Pearson said that paramedics on the scene of the accident had said they smelled alcohol on the breath of Thomas shortly after the accident, but acknowledged that there have been no allegations that she drank alcohol that morning.
Defence lawyer Scott Sheets said Thomas has no recollections of the accident.
He said Thomas was rendered unconscious in the crash, in which she sustained only minor injuries, and has no clear memory of why she crossed the centre line of the highway.
Sheets acknowledged Thomas was travelling at about 101 km/h in a 60 km/h construction zone, but said the other vehicles travelling in the same direction were going at that speed as well, and the other drivers questioned said they saw nothing unusual about her driving patterns before the crash.
“There was also no indication that she drank that day,” he said.
Sheets went on to give a brief history of the life of Thomas, who is a member of the Halalt First Nation.
He said both her parents and grandparents attended the residential school on Penelakut Island, and that fact had had negative implications for Thomas’s life.
“She lost a five-year-old sibling to drunk driving on reserve and another sibling took his own life in 2010,” Sheets said.
“It’s important to understand the emotional frame of mind that Ms. Thomas was in on that tragic day. She had awakened in Victoria that morning to an abusive partner who told her to leave and go kill herself like her brother. When she was returning to her parents’ home in Chemainus, her emotions were impacted by this harmful language.”
Sheets said there is a need for some explanation for the distraction that caused the accident, but he asked the court to consider Thomas’s guilty plea.
“There is also an ongoing civil case in this matter to confirm liability,” he said.
Sheets said Thomas works full time at the Saanich Adult Education Centre, has been attending college online and is in her third year of studies for a business administration degree, and is also an active volunteer in her community.
He said Thomas was brought to tears when he was going over the victim impact statements and read that Justine was forgiving her.
“Throughout all these proceedings, Ms. Thomas has been remorseful and very aware that a young man has lost his life,” he said.