The extreme pain and devastation that followed the death of 28-year-old Brittany Thompson could be felt in the Salmon Arm Law Courts Friday.
A BC Supreme Court sentencing hearing was held June 10 for Dorian Bell, 33, who pleaded guilty to three charges stemming from a crash on May 20, 2021 in Sicamous which killed Thompson. Thompson lived in Malakwa with her husband and four children, ranging from 20 months to 10 years.
Bell pleaded guilty to dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death, failing to stop when driving a vehicle being pursued by police, and driving a vehicle while prohibited.
Crown counsel Alison Buchanan and defence counsel Justin Dosanjh presented a joint submission on sentencing: four-and-a-half years minus time served in prison, as well as a 10-year driving prohibition. Justice Sheri Ann Donegan did not make a decision on a sentence, stating she needed time to review all the submissions she’d received.
The court heard that about 4 p.m. on May 20, Bell was driving a 2003 silver Honda Civic with stolen licence plates near Salmon Arm. The lone passenger in the vehicle was Thompson. Just east of the Canoe Forest Products office, a Salmon Arm RCMP officer attempted a traffic stop.
The Honda took off at a high speed, passing a transport truck on a double solid line on a blind corner. The semi truck driver estimated the Honda was going about 130 km/hr. The Honda passed the next vehicle on the right-hand shoulder, half in the ditch. Two kilometres east of the mill, the Salmon Arm officer turned off the lights and siren, pulled over and radioed other officers to be on the lookout for the vehicle.
A decision was made to deploy a spike belt. It was the Thursday before the May long weekend and Sicamous was busy with vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
Police closed the westbound lane of traffic with a vehicle. When the Honda approached it was still going fast. Just east of the Bruhn Bridge the spike belt was pulled across the road and the driver of the Honda swerved to avoid it. The vehicle careened from side to side, rolled and then tumbled down a steep embankment on the left-hand side of the east end of the bridge, landing on its roof.
Officers and civilians with medical experience rushed to the scene and extracted the passenger via the side window. They tried life-saving measures but Thompson died at the scene. Bell, with serious injuries, was taken via air ambulance to hospital in Kamloops.
An analysis of his blood showed THC from cannabis as well as methamphetamine and ketamine.
The court heard he had spinal injuries but left the hospital against medical advice and before police could be notified.
At the time of the incident he was subject to an order from an April 2021 theft charge that prohibited him from driving or taking intoxicating substances.
The court heard the Bell family neighboured Thompson and her family. On the day of the incident, she had asked for a ride to Salmon Arm to take her cat to the vet.
Bell appeared in court via video conferencing from the Kamloops correctional centre. Thompson’s sister, mother and husband attended via telephone.
Crown counsel Buchanan read out three victim impact statements. Bell could be seen crying through much of the hearing, but sobbed particularly during the statements.
The first came from Thompson’s sister who addressed Bell directly.
“One year ago you made decisions that ruined multiple lives…,” she wrote.
“Your decisions ended her life before it got started. You changed everything. You changed my mom into an empty shell… ”
She said she’d had an argument with her sister which she can now never resolve.
“I asked so many times, why did this happen to her after everything she had overcome. She had overcome addiction, self-hatred, homelessness, hopelessness – she overcame everything life threw at her. I never thought you’d be the one obstacle that she couldn’t make it through,” she wrote to Bell.
Crown counsel Buchanan stopped at one point during the statements as her voice wavered with emotion. She then read Thompson’s husband’s statement.
“Losing Brittany has changed everything for us. Because of your actions that day, you took from me my wife, you took away my best friend, you took away the mother to our children… ”
He said the oldest has had to grow up too quickly, while the youngest will have no memories of her mom.
He said he is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. His children are emotional and angry. Losing Brittany has led to broken family ties and his children are paying a very heavy price, he said.
Defence lawyer Dosanjh said Bell’s brother will help him find work. Bell has worked in roofing most of his life.
He has completed Grade 8 and was diagnosed with ADHD. He has been seeing the Kamloops brain injury society who sent a letter stating he shows signs of a brain injury, a judgment his mother confirmed.
The court heard he lived with his father in Alberta for about eight years when he was a child where he was introduced to ongoing substance abuse and criminal subculture.
Bell took a course in prison and has said he intends to take more. Both Dosanjh and Buchanan said he has expressed genuine remorse.
In a verbal statement to the court, Bell said he wanted to apologize to the family and friends of Brittany Thompson.
“She didn’t deserve this, she was a good person and a good friend. I’m truly sorry.”
Justice Donegan said she hoped sentencing in Salmon Arm could be scheduled within a week.
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