Vancouver family waits 4 years for sentencing of hit-and-run driver

A woman who admits running a red light and killing a 64-year-old man nearly four years ago had to face the family of her victim at a sentencing hearing in Vancouver Tuesday.

On a rainy evening in September 2008, 64-year-old Dennis Bird and his wife of 39 years, Madeleine, were crossing Commercial Drive just north of the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station.

Leanne Moorman, who was driving a Ford Explorer, blew through a red light and hit the couple, seriously injuring Madeleine Bird and killing Dennis Bird.

Witnesses described seeing Moorman run from the scene, describing her as dazed, and hysterical. Police later found cocaine and marijuana in the SUV.

Moorman turned herself in two days later, but failed to appear at several court dates. She finally pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and injury.

At a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Crown lawyers said they couldn't prove Moorman was high at the time of the incident. But the fact that she left the scene is not in dispute.

The Crown said Moorman told her parole officer she was exhausted from partying all night, and momentarily closed her eyes while driving, saying she didn't see the Birds until the moment she hit them.

Moorman sobbed openly as the Birds' children delivered victim impact statements, telling the court how Dennis' death shattered their family and left their mother physically and emotionally broken.

Daughter June McCue said the family has been waiting a long time to see justice served, and is thankful that the time has come. She said Moorman should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

"My hope is that one day, that in a culturally appropriate way, Ms. Moorman will account to our family for the criminal conduct she has forced on us — forced us to go through — take responsibility, denounce what she's done, learn from it," McCue said.

McCue said Moorman needs jail time if she is ever going to learn from her mistake, and appreciate what she has done to the family and the wider community.

"The fact [is] that he is not here to guide us and mentor us, to counsel us, to be there for his grandchildren, to teach them, to continue his service work for the aboriginal community. I live every day with his absence, with him being gone, but I can never forget him," she said.

After the crash, hundreds honoured Dennis Bird, who had worked for 20 years with the Vancouver Native Housing Society.

Many also paid their respects at a roadside memorial that grew near the scene of the crash.

The Birds' son, Michael Bird, said he trusts the judge to make the appropriate decision.

"I leave it in the court's hands. And I'm grateful that someone's standing up for my father, to have his day in court."

Crown lawyers told the court Moorman has started to turn her life around, and has a seven-month-old baby.

Madeleine Bird found it too painful to be in court for the sentencing hearing, which is expected to continue Wednesday.

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