A young man whose greatest fear was dying in a traffic crash was described as loving, helpful and affable by his grieving family at the sentencing hearing of the drunk driver who killed him.
At 2:15 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2009, Matthew Heenan, 23, was struck and killed by a Chevrolet Equinox as he crossed through the intersection of Clement Avenue and Ellis Street after leaving Flashbacks night club.
In an agreed statement of facts, Crown counsel Frank Caputo said it was unclear what colour the light was when the collision occurred and whether the Coldstream man was running, skipping or walking.
What was clear was the driver of the Equinox, West Kelowna’s Bradley Smith, was found to have a blood alcohol level of between 140 and 150 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood in the two hours after the crash. The legal limit is 80 milligrams.
He was also found to be driving 14 to 19 kilometres over the speed limit.
During the sentencing hearing Tuesday, the court heard how Smith’s actions led to a dreaded knock at the door at 5 a.m.
“There are no words to describe the grief and shock” to be woken and told your child is dead, said father Michael Heenan.
“My world, our world, stopped,” said mother Jo Heenan.
Not a day goes by that they don’t think of him, she said, and the pain is “still as raw as the first night.”
“We had no chance to say good bye, to say how much we loved him, how proud we were of him,” said Michael.
There will be no marriage, no grandchildren by their son, no more future happy moments with him, added his mom.
“It all ended abruptly because of a stranger’s terrible choice,” she said.
“His deliberate decision destroyed our life. God may forgive him. We will not,” said Michael.
Matthew’s sister, Robyn, said her brother had been injured in two previous traffic collisions and feared being hit by a truck.
He was a young man who filled a room with his voice and was always rescuing people and animals.
“He thought of others first,” Robyn said.
His father remembered him for his good humour, affability and strong moral beliefs.
Later, Smith told the court that he thinks of Matthew every day.
“Because of my actions, they’ve lost their son,” Smith said, adding there is nothing he can do to change that. “I don’t ask forgiveness, but somehow you find peace,” he said.
Defence Joe Gordon said Smith, now 51, was nearly suicidal after realizing the outcome of the crash and has “deep remorse” and “shame.”
“Drinking and driving that night was the worst decision he made in his life,” said Gordon, adding that Smith has not drank liquor since the crash.
The conviction has cost him his job and he faces civil litigation, said Gordon. As well, Smith will be separated from his teenaged child, who is ill, while incarcerated.
Smith pleaded guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level over .08 and causing the death of Heenan back in November.
Crown counsel and defence made a joint submission that Smith spend two years in jail, which Judge Brad Chapman agreed to.
At odds was the length of Smith’s driving prohibition. Crown asked for five years and defence one; nothing that Smith needs to be able to drive to work in his current profession.
The judge barred Smith from driving for three years after the completion of his jail sentence.
In sentencing Smith, Chapman offered condolences to the Heenan family, but said sentencing is not intended to compensate for the loss of their loved one.
“I don’t know what sentence I could impose that could satisfy….the grief that the Heenans experienced,” he said. “There’s absolutely nothing I can do to ease the loss of losing a son, a brother, a loved one.”
Outside court, Michael Heenan said he was glad that Smith was “being held accountable for his actions.”
“We’re a little disappointed with the length of the sentence that was imposed,” he said.
However, he said he had “no argument” with the judge’s explanation that the sentence was within the range normally imposed for such crimes.
The family is now pushing for changes to the legal system, seeking a mandatory minimum five year jail sentence for impaired driving deaths and for the crime to be reclassified as vehicular manslaughter.