Warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing.
The sentencing hearing for the man charged with striking a University of Victoria student with his van while drunk and high on cocaine began in provincial court Monday morning.
Drake Reynes, 27, pleaded guilty to charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving causing bodily harm. A joint submission to Provincial Court Judge Susan Wishart seeks a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Crown is also seeking a five-year driving probation, while defence is asking that be limited to three years as Reynes relies on his vehicle to earn an income.
Reynes struck Aisha Strange, then 20, on her scooter in July, 2019. Strange suffered catastrophic brain injuries, fractures to her pelvis and legs, nerve damage and chronic respiratory failure. She is unable to speak and is fed through a tube. Her feet, arms and legs contract regularly, making them unusable, even if she did have control over them. Strange has been either in a bed or wheelchair since that day.
Her father, Kevin Strange, read a victim impact statement from his home in Calgary, where Strange now lives with her parents, receiving near constant care. Through sobs, he told the court what it was like to watch his daughter suffer.
|Aisha Strange's scooter lays in the intersection at Shelbourne Street and McKenzie Avenue, after she was struck by impaired driver Drake Reynes. (Black Press Media file photo)
He described her laying in a hospital bed, staring blankly at the ceiling with a pulse of 130 beats per minute, soaked in sweat.
“I know from too many of these experiences that she’s in pain,” he said. “She has a soiled diaper. Her skin is painfully irritated.”
Kevin described looking away while a nurse cleans her.
“I whisper in her ear that she’s alright. She’s safe. And I’m there for her,” he read. “But I’m feeling sick inside. And I feel like crying because in fact, I wasn’t there.”
Kevin described how Strange’s brain injury causes muscle contractions and in two instances she clenched her teeth so hard that she pushed her own teeth out of their sockets.
“Watching these things happen and not being able to do anything about it is indescribable,” he said. “Watching someone you love, suffer day after day while you look on helplessly creates an almost constant, aching emotional pain. I believe that when Drake Reynes crushed my daughter, he also broke my heart.”
Reynes could be heard sobbing from his seat at the front of the Victoria courtroom.
On July 15, 2019, around 7 a.m. – after a night of drinking and consuming cocaine, according to a statement of facts from Crown – Reynes was driving back to his friend’s house when he struck Strange.
She was stopped westbound at an intersection on McKenzie Road on her scooter. She was heading to her job at a summer camp and was wearing a helmet.
“There is no suggestion that Ms. Strange was anything other than in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said prosecutor Paul Pearson.
Witnesses saw Reynes swerving and passing vehicles in a Dodge Caravan while driving northbound on Shelbourne Road.
Reynes attempted to turn right on McKenzie Avenue, overshot the turn and struck Strange on her scooter, as well as another motorist, Luigi Porco.
Reynes then sped east down McKenzie on the wrong side of the road, speeding up to 110 km/h before striking a pole at Larchwood Drive. He fled on foot to a friend’s house, where he called 911 and admitted his involvement.
According to friends at the house, Reynes burst in shouting, “I just killed someone” and “I have to turn myself in.”
Back at the intersection, Porco had bruises and a mild concussion. Strange was alive, but unresponsive. She would be in a coma for months and hospitalized for nearly 300 days, but even that would only be the beginning of a lifelong journey, Kevin said – both for Strange and her family.
“I hope that Mr. Reynes continues to think about his victim long after his sentence has been served because unlike Mr. Reynes’ sentence, my daughter’s is a life sentence,” Kevin said. “I hope and pray [he] spends the rest of his life advocating against drunk driving and is haunted by the memory of what he did to my daughter.”
Strange’s younger sister Nicole told the courts she was on a school trip in Paris when a teacher told her she needed to call her dad. Nicole spent that night crying on the bathroom floor.
“I wanted so much more for my sister than for her greatest accomplishment to be moving her head,” she told the courts.
Her mother, Cathy, told the courts about the emotional impact and the financial burden it has put on the family in order to support Strange and her care. Cathy has had to take extended time off which she worries will lead to her being laid off.
A victim impact statement read on behalf of Strange’s boyfriend stated that he was the last person to see her that day and that he regrets not urging her out the door a little faster.
Reynes addressed the court, repeatedly telling the Strange family how sorry he was.
He spoke about knowing what pain is, referring to losing his father in a car crash when he was eight years old, and promised to never get behind the wheel of a car under the influence again.
The judge’s decision is expected Tuesday.