VERNON - Lori Victoria Vance drank four shots of tequila, plus beer, before getting behind the wheel and hitting a car with two Vernon Jubilee Hospital nurses inside, court heard today during an emotional sentence hearing into the 2014 drunk driving case.
Today, more than two years after the Oct. 23, 2014 crash, Vance was sentenced to three years in jail for impaired driving causing death, and impaired driving causing bodily harm. She will also be prohibited from driving for six years.
The crash claimed the life of nurse Erin Rae Smith, 33, from Kelowna. Smith’s passenger, friend and co-worker Lindsey Hauck, who was 31 at the time and from Vernon, was badly injured and rushed to hospital. Hauck, a mother, is still recovering from the incident. In handing down his sentence, Provincial Court Judge Richard Hewson acknowledged there is nothing he could say that would be proportionate to the loss suffered by the victim's family.
“There are some kinds of tragedy to which I, as a judge, am ill equipped to respond,” Hewson said, noting the profound impacts the crash has had on everyone involved.
Crown counsel Iain Currie described the events leading up to the crash, and said Vance was drinking that night at the Village Green Hotel pub with a friend.
When the friend arrived around 7 p.m., Vance was drinking a Guinness. A total of six shots were ordered and Vance consumed four of them, Currie said. The pair ordered roughly half a dozen more beers over the course of the evening. It was unclear in court how many were consumed by Vance. Investigating officers spoke with the server, the friend and also seized receipts from that evening, Currie said.
At the end of the night, Vance was asked if she was going to drive home, to which the accused replied she was calling a friend for a ride, Currie said. The server indicated she could arrange for a driving service, according to the Crown.
Instead, Vance got behind the wheel of her Chevy Uplander and made her way to the intersection of 30 Avenue and 32 Street (Highway 97). Speeding as much as double the legal limit, according to estimates, she drove through a red light while travelling east on 30 Avenue, T-boning the Pontiac sedan driven by Erin Smith just after 1 a.m. Smith and Hauck were on a routine coffee break and were driving the speed limit.
The seriousness of the collision is made plain in photographs from the scene which show heavy damage to the Sunfire.
Multiple people stopped at the scene. One person said she saw Vance’s car going “way too fast” just before the crash. According to the first officers on scene, Vance was in shock, Currie said.
“She said she had no idea what had happened and said the vehicle struck her,” Currie said. “That was clearly not the case.”
There was a strong odour of liquor on her breath and she was read a demand for a breathalizer test. She failed the screening and was advised she was being detained.
After being checked over at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, Vance attended the Vernon police detachment and gave two breath samples of 140 mg per cent or .14. The legal limit is .08. Police also analyzed blood that was taken for medical purposes at the hospital, and got a blood alcohol reading of between 226 to 244 mg per cent. Currie described the intoxication as a “significant degree of impairment.”
An RCMP traffic analyst pegged Vance’s speed at between 85 km per hour and 98 km per hour in the 50 km zone.
The crash had a profound impact on both the Smith and Hauck families. Erin Smith’s father, Brian, read aloud from a victim impact statement that had been redacted by the Crown for legal reasons. Brian wanted to read his 18 page statement in full, telling Provincial Court Judge Richard Hewson he felt he was being unjustly censored.
“You can never really understand how beautiful a person she was, why she meant so much to us, and the reason we feel the pain we do,” Brian said in the opening of his statement.
He said being parents was his, and his wife Michelle’s life purpose, and raising Erin was something very special. He told the court that Erin earned two university degrees and was a registered nurse. She was due to begin a new course in 2015 to expand her skills, Brian said.
“She was in a profession in which she could make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
In the summer of 2014, she brought a young man home to meet her parents — a first for the family.
“Where or how this relationship would have ended, we will never know,” Brian said.
He went on to say her life has been “reduced to memories” and “there is nothing she can experience in this life anymore.”
He and his wife are constantly reminded of their daughter, whether by hearing a certain song, seeing a young nurse walk by, or a mother pushing her daughter in a stroller.
Sobs could be heard throughout the packed courtroom as Brian read his statement.
Vance sat holding back tears throughout the sentence hearing, often squeezing her eyes shut and turning her head to the ceiling. Her lawyer, Wade Jenson, said she is a mother of four who has worked hard throughout her life to provide for her family.
“Ms. Vance takes full responsibility,” Jenson said. “The pleas she’s put before this court, she makes no excuses whatsoever.”
Originally facing eight charges, Vance pleaded guilty to two: impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm. She was originally due to stand trial starting Feb. 14, 2017 in Supreme Court, but recently re-elected for provincial court.
Jenson said Vance’s decision to plead guilty was entirely her own, and not the recommendation he gave her.
He said she was cooperative with police from the start, and noted the offence was “out of character for her.” According to friends, she was always the one ensuring no one would be drinking and driving.
“She was always the one making sure arrangements were in place,” Jenson said.
He said Vance worked multiple jobs as a single mother and at one time worked as a legal assistant at a Vernon law office. A few months before the crash, her marriage fell apart, Jenson said.
Jenson is arguing for a sentence of two years, less a day, to be served at the Okanagan Correctional Centre so she can maintain contact with her kids, the youngest of which is six.
Vance took an opportunity to address the court, and the victim’s friends and family members in attendance.
“I’ve had nearly three years to think of what I can say to you all. There has not been one day that passes that I have not seen Erin and Lindsey’s faces when I close my eyes,” Vance said, her voice shaking as she held back sobs.
She apologized for the pain and suffering she caused, and said it will haunt her for the rest of her life.
“I despise myself for the hurt and pain I have caused to all of you and my own family. My children have to live with this too,” she said.
Judge Hewson made note of 15 character letters filed in court describing Vance as a caring and responsible friend, and acknowledged her “remorse is evident and deeply felt.”
While Vance’s remorse, obligations to her family, and lack of any criminal or driving record were mitigating factors, Hewson said the situation was aggravated by her decision to drive in spite of her intoxication, her excessive speeding, and high level of impairment. He gave little weight to her guilty pleas, which came more than two years after the offence was committed.
Vance was sentenced to three years for impaired driving causing death and one year for impaired driving causing bodily harm, however the sentences will be served concurrently, meaning she will be behind bars for three years. She is also prohibited from driving for six years and must pay a $400 victim surcharge fee.
Crown was asking for a sentence in the range of two to four years, and said the case was deserving of the high end.
Vance was escorted from the Vernon courthouse by a sheriff and will now be taken to jail.
— This story was updated at 4:13 p.m. Feb. 27, 2017 to include the judge's sentencing decision.
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