The family of a Windsor teen killed on the Herb Gray Parkway earlier this year thinks the trucker who caused her death got off easy.
Nicole Vetor, 19, was just sitting in traffic, her Oldsmobile Bravada the last car in line near the intersection where Cabana Road in Windsor turns into Todd Lane in LaSalle. She was helpless as a transport truck driven by Dinesh Kumar came barrelling around the bend and struck her from behind, sandwiching her car between his trailer and the transport stopped in front of her.
Kumar, 31, Tuesday pleaded guilty to careless driving. His punishment was a $1,200 fine and a mandatory $300 surcharge the province collects to fund programs that help victims of crime.
The penalty is woefully inadequate, said Vetor’s older sister, Jamie. So is driver training, she said.
“I think the Ministry of Transportation is helping these truck drivers kill our families,” she said.
“They don’t seem to care what these drivers know about these 80,000-pound machines.”
As the Highway Traffic Act currently stands, careless driving is careless driving regardless of whether it involves a fatality. The province is in the process of toughening legislation by introducing a new offence for drivers who kill. The new charge — called careless driving causing death — would carry a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine and two years in jail, plus a five-year licence suspension and six demerit points.
The current maximum penalty for careless driving is a fine of $2,000, six months in jail and a two-year licence suspension. According to lawyers and safety advocates, fines rarely exceed $1,000 even in cases of death, and drivers are almost never jailed.
The exception is for drivers who are charged with dangerous driving which is a criminal offence and not prosecuted under the Highway Traffic Act.
According to facts of the Feb. 7 crash read into the court record by provincial prosecutor Aaron Sauve, there were four signs — including lit, electronic messages — on the Highway 401 and parkway approach to the Todd Lane underpass warning drivers to be prepared to stop.
Kumar said he didn’t notice any of them.
The black box in his truck showed he was not exceeding the posted speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour, but it was at that speed that he came up on the standstill traffic. He slammed on the brakes and wrenched the steering wheel to avoid the lineup of traffic. His cab missed Vetor’s car, but his trailer did not.
The young woman died at the scene from her injuries.
Speaking through a Punjabi interpreter, Kumar told justice of the peace Susan Hoffman that he had a clean driving record until the fatal crash. He repeated that, prompting Jamie Vetor to interrupt his address and ask if he was sorry.
Kumar then turned to the family and apologized.
Kumar, a permanent resident of Canada who has been in the country for four years, was headed to Texas with a load of plastic food container bins on the day of the crash.
Nicole Vetor was on her way home from work at Delta Wire and Manufacturing.
She was the youngest of four sisters. Her mother and sister Jamie gave victim-impact statements in court.
Jamie said she had moved across the country to return home with her two young sons the month before her sister died. She felt guilty for leaving in the first place and regretted not having more time with her little sister.
Jamie described seeing Nicole’s body, the image of her sister’s battered face burned into her memory.
“The smell of flowers now repulse me. They smell like the funeral.”