UPDATE: Defence wants sentence of time-served for Gourlay - InfoNews

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UPDATE: Defence wants sentence of time-served for Gourlay

Jason Charles Gourlay.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Facebook
April 11, 2018 - 4:48 PM

KAMLOOPS - It's been just over one year since 16-year-old Jennifer Gatey was struck and killed by a hit and run driver near her Aberdeen home, and now the suspect in the case has pleaded guilty.

Jason Gourlay, 42, appeared in Kamloops Supreme Court today, April 11, where he pleaded guilty to charges of failing to remain at the scene of an accident where death was involved and attempting to obstruct justice by destroying evidence between November 4 and 7.

A sentencing hearing will take at least another day for lawyers to finish their submissions. Crown prosecutor Neil Flanagan is asking for a sentence of 11 to 14 months in prison, followed by a two-year conditional sentence order. Because Gourlay has already spent roughly three months in custody, and will be credited for roughly five months, it would mean six to nine months of new time. Defence is seeking a sentence of time served. 

More than a dozen people were in court today, including Gatey's family and friends, a handful of Kamloops RCMP officers including the head of the serious crime unit, and Gourlay's family members.

For the first time, the public heard details of exactly what happened the night Gatey died.

Flanagan read from an agreed statement of facts which described what happened the moments leading up to the incident, and what Gourlay did to try and cover his tracks afterward. He stressed the fact that there was no evidence to suggest Gourlay was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time, and no criminal offence had led to the crash.

"The circumstances of this case are heartbreaking because this involves the death of a young girl," Flanagan said. "The whole community of Kamloops has been deeply affected by Jennifer's death."

Flanagan said Gatey's death was caused by a non-criminal driving error.

Gatey was sitting on a curb, wearing dark clothes, underneath a streetlight on Pacific Way at a bus stop at approximately 6:30 p.m., Nov. 4, 2016. It was hours before her 17th birthday and she was waiting for a bus to take her to the gym.

Meanwhile, Gourlay had just taken his mother's dog for a walk and was in his Jeep, driving the dog back to his mother's home. Court heard he was going approximately 55 kilometres per hour up Pacific Way.

As he was driving, the dog started moving and it distracted him. While he was distracted, his vehicle began veering to the right of the road. The front passenger side of his vehicle hit Gatey in the head, and she died on impact.

A witness in the area who heard the collision, and surveillance footage from the area showed Gourlay did not stop to try and provide assistance. Flanagan said the sound created by the impact was enough that Gourlay should have known to stop.

But he continued on to his mother's house to drop the dog off. He got out of his vehicle to assess the damage but couldn't find anything noticeable. He drove back to his home in Dufferin and on his way he saw emergency vehicles heading to the scene.

Approximately two hours after the crash, Kamloops RCMP sent out its first release on the incident advising the public that Pacific Way was closed. At 12:30 p.m. the next day, Nov. 5, police advised the public they were looking for a vehicle with damage to the front passenger side.

At that point, Flanagan said, Gourlay knew it was his vehicle police were looking for.

Later that evening, at approximately 8 p.m., Gourlay took his vehicle through a car wash and video surveillance shows a missing front passenger signal light.

The next day police attended Gourlay's home two separate times. The second time, they noticed Gourlay had taken out his driver's side signal light, and moved it to the passenger's side. 

"Mr. Gourlay knew that he should have stopped, but he didn't," Flanagan said.

He added that it's one thing to leave the scene of an accident where you know people are around to help the affected person, but it's another thing to leave the scene and not knowing if anyone is there to help.

Flanagan said the fact that Gourlay left his vehicle parked in his driveway showed a lack of sophistication in his actions.

He added that the Kamloops RCMP detachment did the best work they could on this case, noting that it took one year to gather all of the evidence, reports and expert opinions needed in case the matter went to trial.

"The Kamloops Serious Crimes Unit has given a whole new meaning to the saying 'Leave no stone unturned'," Flanagan said.

Gatey's father, Cameron Gatey, read a victim impact statement to the court this afternoon, and detailed the immense grief he and his family have dealt with since Gatey died. 

In his statement, he said that he is not able to articulate all of the pain he and his family feel and have felt, but he has a greater appreciation for the affect serious crime has on real people.

"I am still haunted every day but the image of the police officers coming to my door the evening of Nov. 4, 2016," Cameron said. "I can still feel the pain in my chest from the months of reeling, weeping..."

The intensity of the grief he feels over the loss of his daughter has led to an irregular heartbeat which he is now seeking medical attention for.

"I think of her constantly. She is my last thought at night and my first thought in the morning."

He told the court how much of a struggle it has been to still pay full attention and be fully committed to his career. He said he now fears he will have to retire early.

"Even a hint of happiness makes me feel guilty," Cameron said.

Cameron told the court he fears running into Gourlay in public, and hopes he will never have to. He said he and his family have spent 17 months waiting for the person involved to take responsibility for their actions. A neighbour rushed to the scene after Gatey was hit and remained with her until emergency crews arrived, and Cameron says it hurts to know what the man had to encounter at the scene.

"While we were suffering in ways almost impossible to describe, Gourlay was washing his car."

Defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen said his client is remorseful for his actions, and described Gourlay's post-collision conduct as at the lowest end of the spectrum of moral culpability.

He says there should be no new driving prohibition imposed because Gourlay has already been on a prohibition since his arrest one year ago.

Jensen said Gourlay suffers from dyslexia which limits his job possibilities, and a driving prohibition on top of that would weaken his prospects more. 

Several letters of support for Gourlay were filed in court. Jensen said they describe Gourlay's good character and strong work ethic. One letter from his aunt described Gourlay's "desire to rebuild his life and move forward from this incident," Jensen said.

A mitigating factor in the case, Jensen said, was the fact that Gourlay was assaulted twice while in custody. The first time he was assaulted, the fellow inmate allegedly committed the act directly because of Gourlay's charges in relation to this case. Jensen said the suspect was recently convicted of aggravated assault in that matter.

Gourlay was knocked unconscious, suffered a broken jaw, a nasal brone fracture, and a concussion among other injuries. 

"It was none other than vigilantism at its worst," Jensen said.

He was also assaulted while in custody after allegedly breaching bail on Vancouver Island.

Jensen is expected to finish up his submissions next week.

More coverage on this case can be found here.

Jennifer Gatey.
Jennifer Gatey.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK

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