‘Willfully blind’ Surrey driver convicted in fatal hit-and-run

NEW WESTMINSTER  — A Surrey driver who struck and killed a man along a rural stretch of Fraser Highway in 2010 has been found guilty of hit-and-run and being "willfully blind" to the damage he did.

Jagjit Singh Basra’s sentencing is set for Sept. 11th. Specifically, he was convicted of failing to stop his vehicle and offer assistance after a motor vehicle accident causing death.

Shamus Travis William MacKay, 19, was killed on Sept. 4, 2010 on Fraser Highway, just east of 168th Street, shortly before 1 a.m.

"There is no evidence that Mr. Basra saw or ought to have seen Mr. MacKay before the accident," Justice Frits Verhoeven noted, following a trial in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. "Tragically, it appears that Mr. MacKay may have been attempting to commit suicide."

The judge found, however, that Basra was "well-aware of the possibility that the accident had involved a collision with a person, but chose not to investigate or inquire, in order to avoid finding out what he did not want to find out. He was willfully blind to the fact that the accident had involved a collision with Mr. MacKay."

The court heard Basra was driving a 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta that owned by his girlfriend at the time, Parveen K. Bains, who was also in the car.

Basra lived in Surrey with his parents, and Bains in Burnaby with her parents. She picked him up to go paddle boating at Burnaby Lake. After they had dinner, went to Langley to check out a store, had coffee and then Bains then set about driving Basra home.

On the way, Bains started getting chest pains and asked Basra to drive. He took over the wheel just north of the intersection of 168th Street and Fraser Highway.

He didn’t tell Bains he’d been prohibited from driving as his licence was suspended at the time. Basra testified he was driving about 55 km/h. He was not speeding, and had not been drinking.

The couple testified they saw nothing prior to the crash and didn’t see what hit the car. They heard a "thud" and saw a large hole in the windshield. Bains was crying and screaming. Both were afraid, thinking someone had thrown a rock through the windshield.

Basra testified he wanted to stop, but Bains didn’t want him to. She urged him to keep going, the court heard. Basra said he stopped the car about 300 yards from where the crash happened after his girlfriend said she wanted to drive. He confirmed she wasn’t injured and no rock had been thrown at the windshield. They switched seats. Bains testified she was so frightened, she forgot about her chest pains.

It was dark. Basra said he looked back up the road and saw nothing. He said he didn’t want to return to the scene for fear someone had thrown a rock at them. Bains drove away.

MacKay’s body had been thrown into a ditch. Moments later, passing motorist Tim Szabo saw eyes reflecting from the ditch, got his friend to stop his car and they pulled MacKay’s body out onto the gravel shoulder. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to his head. Blood test results revealed MacKay had been heavily intoxicated when he died.

Meantime, Bains and Basra continued on, despite heavy damage to the Jetta. She stopped the car in a residential area near 176th Street and 104th Avenue.

Bains told the judge she couldn’t take the vehicle home in the condition it was in because she was concerned about her parents finding out she was on a date with a man they didn’t know.

The court heard Bains urged Basra to call a glass repair shop immediately and he called Michael Vleeming, of Exclusive Auto Glass, at 1:09 a.m. According to Vleeming, Basra was frantic to have the windshield repaired that night but Vleeming couldn’t because he was at a concert at the PNE. They arranged to repair the windshield later that morning. Basra and Bains then caught a cab to Basra’s home, where they spent the night. Vleeming replaced the windshield and took the damaged windshield back to his shop. "It was too heavily damaged to be put into the dumpster safely, so he laid it on the floor," Verhoeven noted. "Later that day, Basra called him and told him not to discard the windshield." The police later seized it, and forensic analysis confirmed that two hairs taken from the windshield matched MacKay’s DNA.

Basra testified he awoke at 9 a.m. on Sept. 4 to a radio report that a pedestrian had been killed at 168th Street and Fraser Highway. Still, he and Bains met with Vleeming where the vehicle was parked, had the windshield repaired and then proceeded to a "backyard bodyshop" to have other damage repaired. "However," Verhoeven noted, "at some point during the day he contacted legal counsel, through whom he provided a report of the matter to the police, and provided a statement to the police in which he acknowledged his role in the accident."

Judge found neither Basra nor Bains to be credible witnesses.

Vleeming testified Basra told him somebody smashed the windshield with a baseball bat as he was leaving a party. Basra denied saying this.

"I find that while Mr. Basra did not know what had struck the vehicle, he was willfully blind to the fact that what struck the vehicle was a person – Mr. MacKay," Vleeming said. "The circumstances required Mr. Basra to at least determine what he had hit. He did not do so because he did not want to learn the truth.

"He deliberately avoided obtaining actual knowledge of the bodily harm and therefore was willfully blind as to that bodily harm. He was also reckless as to whether the death of Mr. MacKay resulted from that bodily harm, in that he took no steps whatsoever to determine whether someone had been injured or whether death might ensue."

The judge noted it was "immediately obvious" the Jetta had collided with "something very substantial."

"In fact, there was much more than a mere ‘hole,’" the judge said. "Both he and Ms. Bains had cell phones with them and calling 911 would have been easy to do." Instead, they left.

"Rather than calling the police to report the supposed rock throwing incident, Mr. Basra sought to and obtained the repair of the windshield urgently."

During a press conference at the scene, back in 2010, the Surrey RCMP announced it planned to contact every registered owner of a 2008-10 Volkswagen City Jetta in the province, if need be, hoping that through a process of elimination it would lead them to the driver.

MacKay had gotten off an eastbound bus at 168th Street and Fraser Highway shortly before he was hit. Police were looking into an "altercation" on the bus prior to MacKay getting off, and believe he may have been in some kind of distress.

Surrey RCMP Const. Peter Neily said at the time that a lawyer contacted investigators on behalf of an undisclosed client who was prepared to meet with them, but the person balked at the last minute.

"Obviously this individual feels something about what happened," Neily noted. "The investigators have not been able to reach this lawyer again," he said.

Meantime, the victim’s mom, Anne MacKay of Surrey, was at the crash scene, pleading with the driver to turn him or herself in.

"This boy had a heart of gold," she said, clutching her son’s picture. "Every time I see his bus at the corner I’m expecting him to get off."

"He was a big guy and wouldn’t hurt a fly," she said. "I keep hearing him knock at the door."

Mrs. MacKay said her son was "on his way to help a good friend of his" who was stranded when he died. "It’s really tough."

His godfather, Terry Craig, told reporters at the time that MacKay was survived by two brothers, had lived at home, and that his dad had died of leukemia five years prior.

"He was just a big kid," he said. "It’s just a shame."

tom.zytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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