While mourning the stabbing death of his friend days earlier, Robert Bill went on a drinking binge, got into his car and fatally struck a relative of the same friend before leaving the scene of the accident.
The compounded tragedies surrounding the deaths of Jesse Seymour, 29, and his cousin, David Seymour, 64, were retold in B.C. Supreme Court at a sentencing hearing for Robert Bill.
Bill pleaded guilty last December to drunk driving causing death and failure to stop and assist following an accident. It took the intervening nine months for preparation of a Gladue report, which considers Bill’s aboriginal background for the purpose of sentencing.
Anguished and remorseful, the 32-year-old father of four stood in the prisoner’s box on Thursday and turned to the Seymour family to offer an apology. Due to the number of relatives who attended, including Bill’s, the hearing had to be moved to a larger courtroom.
“I can’t imagine the pain I’ve brought you,” Bill said.
The Crown recommended a federal prison sentence of two years and six months, along with a 10-year driving ban, while Bill’s defence counsel proposed a two-year federal sentence followed by three years of probation. Bill has a history of criminal and driving offences dating back to year 2000, but his record was clean for five years prior to the accident.
Justice Dev Dley reserved his decision for next Wednesday.
On July 20, 2012, a friend dropped off Bill at his residence on the Tk’emlups reserve after a two-day alcohol binge. Bill argued with his girlfriend, then got into his vehicle and, shortly after, struck Seymour, who was walking home on the shoulder of West Shuswap Road.
Bill’s vehicle was later seized, but the man could not be located until he turned himself in five hours later. An accident investigation found that Bill’s vehicle was travelling over the speed limit on the wrong side of the road when the accident occurred.
Bill told police he could not recall driving but remembered hitting and checking the victim. He said he went for help at his mother’s house, but hit a vehicle and went on the run instead.
Victim impact statements submitted by the family told of the hurt and loss suffered by the family of Seymour, a beloved grandfather and artist who designed the TIB logo.
The Gladue report revealed the troubling trajectory of Bill’s life before the accident. He was raised in a non-status First Nations family in which alcohol abuse was rife. His family was always on the move and in poverty, and he was often physically abused by a stepmother before his mother sobered up and took him back.
A sense of dislocation contributed to Bill’s addictions to alcohol and cocaine, said defence lawyer Sheldon Tate. Though he never felt he belonged to any community, his strongest ties are with the TIB. The TIB, however, banished him from band land as a consequence of the accident.
Tate cited the effects of the residential school legacy, “A national tragedy that resulted in so many broken lives and continues to affect us today.”
Bill lapsed into depression after the accident and thought of suicide. At the same time, he completed multiple treatment programs, Tate noted.
The defence counsel’s request for a sentence longer than that sought by Crown was unusual. Three years of probation would allow for greater monitoring of Bill’s sobriety, he explained.
“It seems to me, society is much better served.”