VERNON - A man who punched through a car window and stabbed the driver with a knife — all in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend who was just run over pinned under the driver's car — won’t serve any jail time for the offence.
Thomas Ritchie, 29, was given a suspended sentence and will instead be on probation with strict conditions, such as getting counselling, not possessing any weapons and being on a curfew, for two years.
The circumstances of the offence were described by lawyers and the judge as highly unusual.
On Feb. 10, Ritchie was walking along 27 Avenue downtown Vernon with his girlfriend, Lisa David, and a friend. A BMW drove up beside them, and some words were exchanged between the group and the two men in the car.
According to the witnesses, the driver then backed up and pointed the car at Ritchie’s group, Crown counsel Karla Dodds said during the sentence hearing in Vernon Provincial Court.
“The car moves slowly at first and then accelerates, basically flooring it at the three people on the sidewalk,” Dodds said.
Ritchie and the friend were able to jump out of the way, but David rolled up the hood of the vehicle and fell to the ground. Her leg became stuck under the wheel of the car.
Ritchie smashed the driver’s side window and attempted to turn the wheel or shut off the ignition to help his girlfriend, who was screaming. The driver, Abd'l-Malik Loubissi-Morris, 18, was fighting him and had a can of bear spray in the car. Ritchie eventually pulled out a pocket knife and stabbed him in the face and neck.
Ultimately, Ritchie was able to turn the wheel and free David. Loubissi-Morris and his passenger then fled from the scene, and Ritchie pursued them. A short distance away, Ritchie bear sprayed them with the canister from their car.
By that time, police arrived on scene and arrested both Loubissi-Morris and Ritchie for assault.
“In Mr. Ritchie’s statement, he indicated he was attempting to assist Ms. David and that is why he took the actions that he did,” Dodds said. “But he realizes it went too far.”
Dodds said that according to the passenger in the vehicle, they were trying to intimidate the people on the sidewalk by pointing the vehicle at them.
Ritchie’s lawyer, Nick Jacob, said the traumatic incident was a turning point for his client, who has struggled with drugs, alcohol and homelessness. He’s now receiving counselling, is clean and sober, and is pursuing business plans with support from the Splatsin First Nation.
In delivering his sentence, Judge Mayland McKimm said assault with a weapon would usually result in at least six months jail time, but that the unusual circumstances of the offence, and Ritchie’s positive lifestyle changes, swayed him towards suspending the sentence.
“What’s clear is she (David) is pinned under the vehicle and Mr. Ritchie, obviously terrified, goes to the window of the motor vehicle and smashes the window of the motor vehicle in an attempt to get the driver of the motor vehicle to stop,” McKimm said.
The judge noted Ritchie’s criminal record, which includes previous assaults — none more recent than 2008 — but praised him for turning his life around.
“It’s also important to note, and to give credit where credit is due,” McKimm said.
As part of his probation, Ritchie will have to adhere to a curfew, take counselling as directed by his probation officer, stay off drugs and alcohol, and not possess any weapons for two years.
“You’ve received an enormous break today, I have to tell you,” McKimm said.
Ritchie declined to speak to the media following the sentence hearing, but his girlfriend Lisa David did. She said during the time she was pinned under the car, she thought she was going to die.
“I was just screaming. I’ve never screamed like that in my life,” she said.
She suffered no broken bones, but sustained soft tissue damage in her leg, shoulder and back and has been going to physiotherapy for months. The incident also took an emotional toll, and David says she struggles with anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“It’s really hard for me to walk places to do normal daily things,” she said, explaining she is constantly afraid someone will hit her with their car.
She still doesn’t know why the attackers wanted to hurt them.
“I still don’t have a clue. There’s a lot of speculation. I’ve never seen these guys in my life. I don’t know who they are. I’m still just as confused as I was then,” she said.
Loubissi-Morris’ charges remain before the courts.
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