Just the pressure of a blanket could be unbearable as Molly Burton described the state of her lower leg: the “cratered” ankle, the fibula in pieces and the tibia that “exploded from her leg.”
A full gallery at the Courtenay courthouse heard how four surgeries were required to clean the dirt and brambles from her wounds following a hit-and-run that has confined the 25-year-old Comox Valley resident to a wheelchair.
“The physical impact of this has been devastating,” Burton said in a victim impact statement Friday at a sentencing hearing at BC Supreme Court. “It was the worst kind of pain.”
Burton suffered critical injuries to her lower right leg and right arm when she was struck by a vehicle on Comox (Dyke) Road around 11:30 p.m. Sept. 11, 2013. The 16-year-old driver, now 17, cannot be named because of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The teen has entered a guilty plea for leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily harm.
After being struck, Burton lay in brush for about four hours, 40 minutes screaming for help “until I broke my vocal chords. I was terrified and I was trapped,” she said.
Police were dispatched but unable to locate Burton. Shortly before 4 a.m., Brody Fullerton, who was on his boat across the water near the Courtenay Airpark, came to her rescue when he heard her screams. He crossed the 17th Street bridge by bike and used a flashlight to locate her. Burton was transported by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital, then airlifted to a Victoria hospital.
The suspect vehicle, a Chrysler, was found abandoned at Comox Logging and Bevan roads. Its lights were on and it was emanating smoke.
Crown lawyer Richard Ellsay said the driver has admitted shotgunning two beers with friends on the night of the accident.
The accused was driving in the lane farthest from the water when the car struck a concrete barrier, crossed the centre line and struck Burton, who was walking on the water side of Dyke Road towards Comox.
“My life is in limbo,” Burton said. “Everything is frustrating and exhausting.”
Members of her family also delivered statements. Her younger sister, Kelly, said her studies have suffered while traveling back and forth from Vancouver to Victoria. Burton’s mother, Leslie Wells, recalls a “jolt of awareness” when doctors listed her daughter’s injuries.
“I was overcome with anguish and anger in the ensuing weeks watching Molly suffer,” she said, noting “horrible dreams” since the accident and a loss of interest in hobbies such as running and playing piano. Her work has also suffered. “My life has been impacted by a driver who chose to drink and speed.”
Burton’s father, Ralph, said he and Wells had planned to vacation with friends in Palm Springs on the morning of the accident.
“The happy holiday suddenly turned into a nightmare,” Ralph said. “It quickly became evident how drastic Molly’s injuries were.”
Burton’s parents basically moved to Victoria to be at their daughter’s side.
“Her pain was constant and intense,” Ralph said, noting the “horrendous and cowardly crime” that has ruined the last year of his daughter’s life. “Her leg is horribly disfigured.”
He glared at the teen when he spoke of the psychological impact resulting from “evil deeds.
“Will this young criminal mend his ways? Will his parents guide him to become a law-abiding adult? Is it safe for him to be free?”
Ralph also criticized the Crown and defence for striking a deal to drop two of three charges — impairment and dangerous driving — of which he was informed after the decision was made.
The teen — an ‘L’ licensee who had a number of driving infractions before the accident — has acknowledged he was driving without the presence of a passenger of at least 25 years of age. Ellsay said the accused knew he had hit a person but told his parents he had struck a deer. The next morning, accompanied by his father, he turned himself in to police.
A doctor’s report notes the teen had a “poor attitude” in school. A low score on an IQ test suggests “limited intelligence.” Ellsay suggests the teen gave up on school and lived an insular life on the family farm where he pushed the limits on vehicles. He also suggests a “blatant disregard” of rules and laws.
“I suggest this is a violent offence because an element of the offence is causing bodily harm,” said Ellsay, who is requesting a period of custody.
Defence lawyer Dale Marshall says it would be wrong to imprison the teen, considering his background and youth. He suggests instead a non-custodial sentence.
While he realizes nothing will heal or minimize Burton’s wounds, Marshall said the teen has a sincere desire to make amends, knowing he should not have driven and drank alcohol.
Marshall asked Judge Ronald Lamperson to consider the teen is a first-time offender who turned himself in to police the day after the crime. He entered a guilty plea at the first opportunity, has not breached bail conditions, and is polite when reporting to officials. He has also abided by a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily curfew.
“He has done everything right since doing everything wrong,” Marshall said, noting the teen wants to apologize to Burton and is willing to participate in restorative justice.
Marshall notes police have checked on the teen 30 to 40 times since the accident.
As for the dropped charges, Marshall said the Crown has conceded there is no evidence showing the teen was impaired. Also, allegations of dangerous driving after leaving the scene are not related to driving that led to the accident.
The hearing resumes Thursday, at which time Lamperson expects to set a date for sentencing.