The mother of a woman killed walking in a New Westminster crosswalk last year has called on British Columbia to change its motor vehicle laws.
A disappointed Margaret Snowball made the comment after the man driving the Jeep that ran over Gemma Snowball, 25 at the time, received the “maximum” penalties for his conviction.
Ryan Follack, 30, was fined $2,000 and given a five-year ban on driving in British Columbia by provincial court Judge Rory Walters on Tuesday.
Follack pled guilty to driving without due care and attention in connection with Gemma’s death at Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue on a rainy March 11, 2013 night.
“He’s got away with killing Gemma,” said Margaret following the sentencing. “I really feel changes in the law need to be made in British Columbia. It is totally wrong. There was no mention in the charge of it being a fatality. I’ve been totally disgusted by it, to be honest.”
Crown counsel Lionel Yip told the court the evidence didn’t support a criminal charge so Follack was charged under the Motor Vehicle Act. The maximum penalties for a conviction are a $2,000 fine, a five-year driving ban and up to six months in jail. Yip did not seek a prison sentence because previously it had only been levied in cases where there were more serious factors involved.
“It would seem to be a trivial legal response to such a horrendous consequence,” admitted Walters in handing down the sentence.
Margaret said she understood it was up to Crown counsel to determine what charges would be laid, but had been told by police if it was up to them he would have been charged criminally along with numerous traffic charges.
While Follack initially asked for a three-year driving ban, he later changed his mind agreeing the five-year ban and fine asked for by Yip were appropriate.
“I am here to take responsibility for my actions,” Follack told Walters. “It saddens me to know I took the life of a beautiful young woman who shared much of the same interests as I do. I am deeply sorry.”
Margaret shook her head when asked if she believed Follack was remorseful. “Sorry, I can’t buy that one.”
Yip told the court Follack was stopped at a red light while on Sixth Avenue pointed west toward the Royal City Centre mall at about 10:30 p.m. that night. He was driving a Jeep YJ modified with 36-inch wheels. The bumper was 31.5 inches off the ground. Motor vehicle regulations allow only 16 to 20 inches, said Yip.
Left turns are not allowed in any direction at the intersection. But Yip said the driver in the car behind Follack told police when the light went green the Jeep turned left onto Sixth Street.
Margaret Snowball of Perth, Australia with her daughter Gemma during a visit to British Columbia in fall 2012.Photo contributed
Court was told the driver’s side front tire rolled over Gemma, who was heading home after finishing her shift at the nearby Safeway delicatessen. She suffered a severe skull fracture, a broken pelvis and broken leg. By midnight doctors at Royal Columbian Hospital told police she was brain dead. She was kept alive until her mother arrived from her home in Perth, Australia. After the life support systems were removed Gemma’s liver, pancreas, lung, kidney and eyes were donated for transplants. Her heart was too damaged to be transplanted.
Collision experts estimated the vehicle was traveling between 19 and 26 km/h when it hit Snowball. Follack stayed at the scene. Witnesses and police said he appeared to be distraught. He claimed his windows were foggy and he thought the green light was for left turns.
Police said Follack denied drinking that evening. But the officer detected liquor in a cup in the Jeep and asked Follack to take a roadside test. He registered a .027 reading for alcohol, below the legal limit.
“It is somewhat difficult to accept at face value that his windows were foggy and the wipers were streaky,” said Walters. “Clearly if Gemma Snowball was there to be hit, she was there to be seen.”
Walters called a motor vehicle a lethal weapon and it’s up to the driver to be on the lookout. “There is not a good explanation for why Mr. Follack didn’t see Miss Snowball when she was directly in front of his vehicle.”
Follack, 30, is from Kelowna but went to BCIT before getting a degree from Simon Fraser University in 2012. He has been working in the energy field in Alberta. He has been accepted to law school in Leicester, England and begins studies in September.
Walters said while previous cases imposed a three-year ban at most, he felt five years was appropriate because Follack, who is still facing a failure to appear charge for not showing up for last Friday’s original court date, would be living outside of B.C. for at least two years.
“It would be meaningless if a great portion of the time took place when you were not in the jurisdiction,” said Walters.
Eleven victim impact statements were submitted to the court.
“It is quite clear from those statements that Gemma Snowball was a spectacular 25-year-old young woman who was very loved by her family and had a bright future,” said Walters.
Margaret read her impact statement in court.
“Gemma lost her life that night and will never know the excitement of travelling to all the countries she had planned, never have the thrill of falling in love and planning a wedding. Never experience the joy of having her own children,” said Margaret.
“As Gemma’s mum I will not be able to recover from her death. I will just hopefully get better at hiding the hurt and grief that I feel inside.”
Margaret and Gemma’s sister Hannah went for a walk along English Bay in Vancouver on the weekend. They spotted a sign that stated the maximum fine for not having a dog on a leash was $2,000. “Mum, how is it that’s the same penalty as it is for the guy who killed Gemma?” asked Hanna.
They headed home to Australia without an answer.
• Follack appeared in court again Wednesday on a charge of failing to appear. He did not show for the original date set for the pre-sentence report of Aug. 8 and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
Excerpts from victim impact statement made in court by Margaret Snowball:
• “Gemma lost her life that night and will never know the excitement of travelling to all the countries she had planned, never have the thrill of falling in lvoe and planning a wedding. Never experience the joy of having her own children. She was 25 years old.
• I am unable to interact in a meaningful way with my colleagues at work. I have been unable to share the event of Gemma’s death with them and pointedly ignored their condolences and questions to the stage where they no longer mention Gemma. I cannot interact in the social way I did previously. I avoid being in social situations as I cannot tolerate the meaningless chatter of conversation.”
• My relationship with my parents and sister has been shattered and we no longer are close. Some hurtful things were said which cannot be taken back or forgotten. I constantly suffer from nightmares and am no longer able to sleep through the night. My first thought on waking is Gemma. My last thought before sleeping is Gemma. During the day I think of Gemma. Tears will well at the most unexpected times and I find that I have to remove myself from the situation until I regain control.”
• Gemma was a ray of sunshine who would talk with young and old alike. She brought life into every place she was. Her big beautiful smile, her winning ways, her care for all. Gemma was a bright beacon of light for all whom she came into contact with. She had a zest for life and made every moment count and the world is a sadder place without her.
• As Gemma’s mum I will not be able to recover from her death. I will just hopefully get better at hiding the hurt and grief that I feel inside. I will never again be the person who I was on the 11th March 2013 before Gemma was run over. A part of me died when I heard that my beautiful daughter was run over and killled and that can never be replaced. I find it extremely hard to get through eadch day as life has little meaning to me. My life and that of those around me has changed into a horrific nightmare that will never end because of the actions of [Follack].