Motorist to be sentenced in hit and run death of Tom Samson


Tom Samson

Motorist to be sentenced in hit and run death of Tom Samson

Cyclists urged to attend hearing on Monday, December 21

by Albert Koehl

Tom Samson was three years old when his father Uri taught him to ride a bicycle.

Safe riding was an important part of the lessons. Uri even insisted that his young son wear a helmet, despite a culture in Norway – where the Samsons lived at the time – that put little importance on helmets for children. Other kids at the school soon followed Tom’s example, leading local police to congratulate him. More than two decades later, when Tom – now in Toronto – had become a husband and father, he assured Uri that safety remained a priority in his cycling: “Dad, I know I have a family to take care of now.”

Sadly, the safety practices of cyclists aren’t always enough to protect them from bigger, faster vehicles, especially in a city that has yet to make the safety of cyclists a priority. On November 23, 2012, Tom was killed while riding his bike at Davenport and Lansdowne in Toronto. On  Monday, December 21, the motorist who hit Tom and fled the scene, leaving him lying in the roadway, will be sentenced in a Toronto courtroom.

In the torturous years that followed Tom’s death, his family has been unwilling to follow North American cultural norms that expect families to follow what might look like a script: Grieve privately, somehow accept the death as an "accident" (or as the victim’s fault), and let the system decide on a just outcome.

For starters, Uri considered absurd a statement in the police press release, issued mere hours after Tom’s death, that Tom had cycled through a red light. The family didn’t stay quiet, later even hiring a criminal lawyer to help right the record. Uri explains that the police accident report was ultimately changed to show that Tom was actually stationary or almost stationary in the intersection. [Editor's note: This finding would be consistent with a cyclist making a left turn.]

Uri also publicly demanded that motorists convicted for fail to remain offences involving fatalities under the Criminal Code face a minimum jail sentence. Uri says he “cannot fathom how someone can be so callous, so cowardly,” as to leave someone dying in the road after a violent crash. The motorist who killed Tom only turned himself in to police 40 hours after the collision – and far too late to determine if he had been impaired by alcohol or drugs.  Although a fail to remain charge carries a high maximum penalty, there is no minimum. A minimum jail sentence would serve as a strong deterrent and delivers a strong message: if you leave the scene of a fatal or serious collision, you will go to jail. This would underline the critical importance of the seconds after a crash that may well determine if a victim survives.

Tom’s wife Kasia too has been unwilling to follow the script. In an interview with the Toronto Star, she suggested that the public gets comfort from being able to treat a fatality as an accident or to blame the victim.“It’s a big relief — that it’s a freak accident, he did something wrong. It’s reassuring and gives a completely false sense of security.” Other commentators in the article asserted that police may be too quick, especially relative to homicide investigations, in making their conclusions in order to get traffic moving again. It’s worth noting that (as of this writing) Toronto has had 63 road fatalities this year – the majority comprised of cyclists and pedestrians – compared to 54 homicides, according to Toronto Police news releases.

White Bike

White Bike memorial for Tom Samson at the corner where he was struck. Photo by Martin Reis.

When families, along with groups like Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (or ARC – they place the white bikes as memorials at collision scenes) step forward after a fatality, it becomes more difficult for governments to camouflage road deaths as dull statistics that can be ignored. Instead, victims are remembered as fellow residents with faces, families and stories – and governments, we hope, are pushed to take road safety seriously.

Tom’s family also stepped forward on September 10, 2015, along with other families, at a press conference organized by a coalition of groups calling on the province to impose stronger penalties on motorists who kill or injure vulnerable road users. Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, a small monetary penalty may be the only sanction for a motorist who kills a cyclist. The objective of the proposed law is general deterrence – using higher penalties to motivate greater caution by all motorists and in turn, prevent deaths. Surprisingly, the Minister of Transportation initially rejected the group’s request for a meeting, suggesting that existing laws are adequate.

Tom and Kasia

Tom and Kasia on their 10th wedding anniversary at Flowerpot Island near Tobermory, Ontario.

The long criminal justice process, which added to the Samsons’ burden, is now nearing a conclusion. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for this coming Monday, December 21. The accused only decided to plead guilty this past spring, virtually on the eve of his trial. The sentencing hearing had been set for August 2015 but, bizarrely, neither the accused nor his lawyer showed up in court, instead sending a junior legal representative to say that the facts underlying the plea still needed to be settled with the Crown.

The December 21 sentencing hearing is open to the public. The community is now being offered its own opportunity to express its viewpoint – by its presence in court – on the unacceptability of road deaths.  The Samson family has appreciated the ongoing support for Tom by the cycling community throughout the long judicial process.

Albert Koehl (along with civil lawyer Patrick Brown) is representing a coalition of groups calling on the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Attorney General to implement a Vulnerable Road User Law in Ontario.

The sentencing hearing for The Queen v. Miguel Oliveira will be held at 361 University Avenue (between Queen and Dundas streets) at 10 a.m. in Room 2-6. INQUIRIES, CITING THE CASE NAME, CAN BE MADE ON THE MAIN FLOOR OF THE COURTHOUSE FOR ANY LAST MINUTE CHANGES.



Related on the dandyBLOG:

Memorial ride for Tom Samson

Remembering Fallen Cyclists

In heaven, everyone rides a bicycle

Vision Zero: A road safety plan for Toronto

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