Accident victims Shelley Lammers and Nola Carlson reflect on testimony at the sentencing hearing of driver Barry Christiansen at Surrey Provincial Court Friday. Below

Hit-and-run driver receives conditional sentence

Barry Christiansen never tried to assist victims, never identified himself to police and frustrated the investigation, judge says.

The driver who knocked down two women joggers at a South Surrey intersection on a rainy evening in 2012 – and left the scene without identifying himself to police as the driver – has received a nine-month conditional sentence, with a year’s prohibition on driving a vehicle.

At Surrey Provincial Court Monday, Judge James Sutherland told Barry Christiansen that he must serve the first month of his sentence confined to his home at all times and the first two to six months with a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

He must also perform 150 hours of community work service.

He must report to a supervisor throughout the sentence, and any exemption to his sentence conditions, related to attending meetings for work purposes, must have prior written permission, Sutherland said.

Barry Christiansen outside court Monday

The 56-year-old – a former executive with Envision Financial – entered a guilty plea Friday on two charges of “failing to stop at an accident scene involving bodily harm.”

Running partners Nola Carlson and Shelley Lammers were both present at the sentencing, nearly 34 months after the incident, which took place at the intersection of 32 Avenue and 152 Street around 7:40 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2012.

The guilty plea put a halt to a scheduled nine-day trial for which both women – who have filed victim-impact statements chronicling an extremely difficult recovery period – expressed relief following the sentencing hearing.

After the sentence was pronounced, Carlson told reporters they had both been “well prepared” for the ultimate outcome.

But Carlson emphasized Monday that had it not been for the prompt actions of “Good Samaritans” on the scene, they might have lost their lives.

“We were left lying in the road – we could well have been hit again and killed,” she said.

The case has received sustained public and media scrutiny since police released a traffic-camera video (below) that showed the impact and, shortly afterward, a figure – identified in court as Christiansen – approach the two victims, lean over them, then rapidly leave the camera frame.

The charges hinged on the fact that while Christiansen actually lingered at the scene, he did nothing to help his victims before leaving.

Sutherland said Christiansen had “failed in his responsibility to remain at the scene” of the incident.

“He knew he had struck them, but he never offered or tried to assist them, never identified himself (to police) as the driver and responded to police in a way that frustrated their investigation,” Sutherland said Monday.

In a statement of fact agreed upon by both Crown counsel Michael Fortino and defence lawyer Emmet Duncan, the court heard at Friday’s sentencing hearing that Lammers and Carlson were hit by Christiansen’s white BMW SUV as they jogged across a marked crosswalk legally. It was dark and raining at the time, the statement confirmed, but both women – who had been jogging at the tail end of their regular running group – were wearing clothing with reflective strips and headlamps.

Lammers suffered severe head injuries (including traumatic brain injuries and bleeding in the brain), broken ribs, a collapsed lung and back fractures, while Carlson suffered broken cheekbones, facial lacerations and bruising. Both were airlifted to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

Christiansen remained at the scene, first moving his vehicle out of the intersection and then to a parking lot 40 metres away, reportedly telling Good Samaritans who rushed to help the women that “I didn’t see them” and asking another bystander to call 911.

But he ultimately left – “panicked,” Duncan said – while police pursued early reports that the women had been struck by a black car.

In announcing the sentence, Sutherland said he had taken into full account victim-impact statements submitted by Lammers and Carlson, previous case law suggesting that a conditional sentence was warranted and also the subsequent impact of Christiansen’s actions on his own life – which, he emphasized, could not be compared with the effects of the incident suffered by the two women.

Sutherland also noted that no charges had been laid with regard to the manner of Christiansen’s driving, adding that although he had not offered help, others who arrived on the scene within a minute of the incident – including some with medical training – were able to offer immediate assistance.

“His failure to fulfill his duties did not cause the injuries,” Sutherland said, “and, arguably, did not exacerbate them.”

The judge noted Christiansen’s record as a community volunteer and the continuing support of family. He said those who had written testimonial letters agreed that his actions were “out of character.”

Barry Christiansen

Sutherland added that case law supports the idea that the shame and media exposure Christiansen has received since being identified as the driver does constitute a form of punishment, and fulfilled some of the requirements of denunciation and deterrence called for under the law.

The judge also noted that Christiansen’s guilty plea will likely have a bearing on civil actions that are being brought against him by both victims.

Following the delivery of the sentence, Christiansen was embraced by family members before leaving the court and walking past the victims and a group of their friends and family without visibly acknowledging them.

At his sentencing hearing Friday, however, a tearful Christensen had told the court, in an emotion-choked voice, that he prays “every day” for the two women joggers he knocked down.

“I want their full recovery so that they can (regain) health and happiness,” he said.

“But I don’t know why it all had to take so long,” Lammers told Peace Arch News after the hearing.

Lammers’ impact statement said she has suffered memory loss, inability to concentrate, chronic depression and thoughts of suicide since her injuries.

“I’m relieved the driver has taken some responsibility for what has happened,” Carlson told PAN Friday.

After sentencing, Carlson said that she and Lammers hoped the case sends a message to drivers that, if they are involved in an accident in which they have injured someone, the best thing to do is to stay on the scene and lend assistance.

“It’s the human thing to do, the moral thing to do, and it’s going to cost far less in the long run.”

 

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