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Dangerous driver who left Vernon nurse paralyzed sent to prison

Before getting paralyzed in a hit and run accident, Robin Orcherton loved to garden, ski, travel and spend time in the outdoors.
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May 21, 2015 - 4:47 PM


VERNON - An accident of some kind was inevitable the night a Vernon woman’s life changed forever, court heard during a sentence hearing for the man who ran into her car and fled the scene.

Michael Timothy George Heeley, 22, was driving recklessly before he collided into Robin Orcherton’s car at the intersection of 39 Avenue and Alexis Park Drive around 5:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 2014, Crown lawyer Iain Currie said today, May 21, at the Vernon Courthouse.

Separate reports from earlier in the evening put Heeley’s blue Jeep Liberty speeding through a stop sign, forcing another vehicle to swerve to avoid a collision, and running into a woman’s bumper and getting into a shouting match before taking off, Currie said, adding the pattern of fast, reckless driving meant an accident was inevitable during the busy, rush hour traffic. 

Orcherton was turning left onto Alexis Park Drive when Heeley’s Jeep blasted through the intersection, crushing the front end of her vehicle. Some witnesses pegged his speed as high as 100 km/h with no sign of him braking as he approached the intersection.

Witnesses said he got out of his vehicle and looked into Orcherton’s car before leaving the scene, Currie said. He returned a few minutes later, and left again despite people urging him to stay.

Heeley later reported to police that his Jeep had been stolen, an attempted coverup to avoid liability, Currie said. Police followed up on the reported theft, and discovered Heeley bought the vehicle about two weeks prior, though it was not yet registered in his name. Video surveillance at the 7-Eleven store about an hour before the accident connected him with the blue Jeep Liberty and he was also wearing clothes with a distinct logo that matched an eyewitness description at the scene.

The accident paralyzed Orcherton, 44, from the neck down. The former nurse was unable to be in court for the hearing, but her sister read a victim impact statement on her behalf. In the statement, Orcherton said she now has to depend on others for her most basic needs, like eating and moving around. Due to breathing complications, she “can’t even laugh out loud anymore.” Due to the paralysis, she can no longer use sign language to communicate with her daughter, who is hard of hearing, and will never again be capable of hugging her husband or kids. The emotional, physical and financial toll has been overwhelming, she said.

“I have been given a life sentence worse than jail,” Orcherton said.

Instead of disputing the allegations, Heeley pleaded guilty to one of the three charges against him: criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and that was a valuable plea in the eyes of the Crown.

Eye witness accounts were somewhat inconsistent, and the case was complicated by the fact that Heeley’s DNA was found on both the driver and passenger side airbags, putting his position as the driver in doubt, Currie said. He added the Crown’s case would have been open to attack had the matter gone to trial.

Defence lawyer Claire Mastop said Heeley has taken responsibility for the accident through his guilty plea and will live with what happened for the rest of his life. She added he had a troubled childhood spent in and out of foster homes.

Both Currie and Mastop asked Judge James Threlfall to consider a two year jail sentence, but the judge went higher with three years in prison and a ten year driving prohibition. Threlfall outlined Heeley’s lengthy criminal record, which includes a conviction for dangerous driving in 2013. Heeley was on probation when he struck Orcherton’s car. Threlfall said he showed a complete lack of respect for public safety and called the impact on Orcherton and her family ‘catastrophic.’ A credit of 128 days for time already served in custody was applied to Heeley’s three year jail term.

Outside of court, Orcherton’s husband Dave said the sentence was not enough.

“My wife is imposed a lifetime of imprisonment inside herself,” he said. “There’s no justice.”

Numerous friends and family members were present in court for the hearing.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © iNFOnews, 2015

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