The man who struck and killed a Kamloops teenager while she sat waiting at an Aberdeen bus stop in 2016 not far from her family’s home has been ordered to spend about five months behind bars, a sentence the victim’s father called “an injustice.”
Jennifer Gatey died instantly on Nov. 6, 2016, when she was struck by a Jeep being driven by Jason Gourlay. The 43-year-old pleaded guilty to one count each of leaving the scene of an accident and obstructing justice. He was sentenced on Monday to 10 months in jail, a term cut in half by time served, calculated at 1.5 days per day spent in pre-trial custody.
The maximum sentence for leaving the scene of an accident in which a death has occurred is life in prison.
Gatey was one day short of her 17th birthday when she was killed. Court heard she was sitting on the curb beneath a streetlight, waiting to catch a bus to Thompson Rivers University.
Gourlay told investigators he was momentarily distracted by his mother’s dog, which he had in his Jeep at the time of the crash, when he struck Gatey. After learning Gatey had died, Gourlay took his Jeep to a car wash and then swapped signal lights in attempt to hide damage done in the crash.
Speaking outside court on Monday, Cameron Gatey said his daughter’s death was not taken seriously by the court system.
“I would argue that any reasonable person would look at a sentence like this and not say that justice has been done,” he said.
“This is not justice. … There is a law on the books that suggests leaving the scene of an accident is a serious event. But what I’m seeing here is the courts saying this is not a big thing. I think the message is very clear to people — if you find yourself in this circumstance, the thing to do is flee because there’s a chance you will get away with it. And even if you do get caught, you can always do the calculus and decide to plead guilty when it’s clear you’re going to be convicted of the crime.”
Gourlay’s Jeep was seized within days of Gatey’s death, but he was not charged until four months later. He has been free on bail since last summer.
In court in April, Gourlay apologized to Gatey’s family.
“I am so sorry for the pain and sadness and loss I have caused you and I am sorry for the painful months that have passed since you have lost your daughter,” he said. “I made a very wrong decision not to stop and see what I had done that night. I made another awful decision, then, when I realized what I had done.”
In delivering her sentence on Monday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather MacNaughton acknowledged the “irrevocable change” and “sadness” the circumstances of Gatey’s death brought about for her family and friends.
“I am acutely aware of the devastating impact Jennifer’s death has had on her family and friends,” the judge said.
MacNaughton said two jailhouse assaults levelled against Gourlay — one in Kamloops and another on Vancouver Island, described by the judge as “pure vigilante justice” — were a mitigating factor on the sentence.
Gourlay was attacked by a fellow prisoner on March 10, 2017, at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre. In that instance, he suffered a broken jaw and broken nose, as well as a concussion, and was left with plates in his face. Just over a month later, he was attacked by a fellow inmate again at Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre.
MacNaughton repeatedly cited section 718 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which deals with the purposes and principles of sentencing in Canada. Of the six objectives in the code — deterrence, denunciation, separating offenders from society, rehabilitation, reparations and responsibility — MacNaughton said deterrence and denunciation were most applicable in her sentencing decision.
MacNaughton cited a number of previous cases involving hit-and-run deaths and five that also included a charge of obstruction, noting the sentences ranged from a 90-day intermittent term to 30 months in prison. She also cited Gourlay’s decision to plead guilty well before the scheduled trial date and his apology to the Gatey family as factors in his sentence.
MacNaughton reminded the courtroom she was bound by the agreed statement of facts between defence and Crown, which included no evidence — despite what she said was a thorough investigation by police to determine otherwise — that Gourlay was impaired when his Jeep struck and killed Jennifer. She added she did not consider Gourlay’s attempts to cover up the hit-and-run as aggravating factors as they were part of his separate obstruction charge.
Following his arrest, Gourlay was ordered by court to enter two drug-rehabilitation facilities, one in Nanaimo and another in Surrey. He breached his conditions in Nanaimo, leading to his arrest.
Cameron Gatey said Gourlay’s sentencing brings about some level of closure for his family, despite them being unhappy with the jail time.
“There is — that is the good news,” he said.
“I’ve come to realize I will never have to come to court again to see his face, and it was somewhat rewarding to see him let out of there in handcuffs. … Jennifer was a wonderful person who was very slow to rise to anger. I’m remembering her this morning as I’m trying to be reasonable about what I’m saying and what I feel.
“I know people who have lost a child will be able to understand this, that it’s very, very different from the other end of the spectrum when your parents pass away or somebody older than you passes away,” he said.
“Each and every day, you are reminded of the things that are not going to happen, of the life that she would have lived. In Jennifer’s case, in a few weeks’ time, she would have been graduating from high school. Instead, what I’m going to do is I am going to hand out a bursary to a deserving recipient, but it’s so painful to have to go and do that instead of celebrating her graduation.”
In addition to the jail time, Gourlay will also be bound by a one-year driving ban as a result of his conviction and will be required to submit a sample of his DNA to a national criminal database.