People should not be punished for their poverty.
But poverty is no excuse for putting an unsafe vehicle on the road.
So ruled a B.C. Court judge when he sentenced Van Nho Nguyen to 22 months in jail for criminal negligence and prohibited him from driving for 10 years in connection with an incident that killed a woman near Ucluelet.
“A person who cannot afford to maintain his vehicle in a safe condition must not drive it,” Judge Ted Gouge ruled May 31 in a Port Alberni B.C. court judgement released last week.
“The sentence in this case must make the point with sufficient force and clarity that others in Mr. Nguyen’s position will take their vehicles off the road until they can be restored to safe operating condition.”
Lorraine Ennis, 77, described by the court as a much-loved mother and grandmother, died Jan. 30, 2014, while collecting bottles to donate to charity. Ennis was walking along a roadside path when Nguyen’s fishtailing boat trailer struck her, then dragged her body 15 metres. Nguyen had applied his brakes while descending a hill, causing the trailer to swing out like a pendulum.
The court blamed the incident on mechanical deficiencies in Nguyen’s truck and trailer, as well as the size of the boat relative to the trailer. The trailer tires were worn and mismatched. One was 30 years old. The trailer’s brakes had been disabled. The load was about 50 per cent over the recommended limit for the trailer and approximately 33 per cent overweight for the rating of his truck. The court ruled the load issues should have been obvious to anyone.
Although Nguyen, 58, had no criminal record, the judge cited seven convictions under the Fisheries Act and nine under the Motor Vehicle Act as evidence of a longstanding pattern of disregard for regulation. He called his decision to drive an obviously unsafe vehicle "considered and deliberate."
However, Gouge also gave consideration to the fact Nguyen was unemployed at the time and no longer working as a fisherman due to health problems. Instead, he was collecting scrap metal and recycling as his primary source of income.
“The question in the case is: What is a just sanction for a poor person who drives a vehicle which he knows to be unsafe because he cannot afford to maintain it in a safe condition and kills an innocent citizen as a result?” he said.
“It is fair to say that he was aware of the danger which his vehicle posed to public safety, and deliberately took the risk,” he ruled. “This was a very grave offence, and Mr. Nguyen bears sole responsibility for it.