“Christmas — a time of joy and family celebration — will never be the same” for the families of Lucinda Yaworski and George Balint.
Two grieving sisters gave victim impact statements in court on Wednesday as the woman responsible for killing two pedestrians last Christmas Eve pleaded guilty in their deaths.
Lucinda and George were out for a leisurely Dec. 24 morning walk a few blocks from their house when they were hit in a crosswalk at the intersection of John Laurie Boulevard and Hawkwood Drive N.W., according to Lucinda’s older sister, Beverley Yaworski.
Beverley, the oldest of three sisters in the family, said she was vacationing in Arizona at the time of the crash, which she said left her struggling with feelings of guilt and regret for not being in the city on Christmas Eve to “protect her or somehow delay them so they weren’t killed.
“I cried that I couldn’t protect Lucinda from an early death. A younger sister isn’t supposed to die before the oldest,” Beverley said.
Beverly said she was also crippled with fear that she or her other sister, Judy, could also be in a crash.
“For months after the funeral, I stayed indoors because of these fears,” Beverley said.
After the sentencing, Beverley said she felt a sense of relief personally because the reality has been hanging over her for almost a year, but said she felt the charges should have been more serious.
‘Supposed to be a time of joy’
George and Lucinda were active volunteers in their community, with Lucinda’s sister Judy York sharing that they provided help to a young immigrant family through the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.
She said on Christmas Eve morning, she received a call from a social worker telling her George had been in an accident. On her way to the hospital, she’d been trying to reach her sister, assuming George wasn’t seriously injured and Lucinda was OK.
Judy broke down in tears when she recalled being told her sister had been killed.
“This was supposed to be a time of joy. Instead, it was filled with sadness,” York said.
Instead, they spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day calling family and friends to tell them the news of the couple’s deaths.
Judy said she had to identify her sister at the coroner’s office, something that will stick with her forever.
“The trauma of seeing her face on a computer screen is a vision I will never forget,” Judy said.
She has been seeing a doctor, is on anti-depressants and has panic attacks when she sees a black Toyota 4Runner — the vehicle involved in the 2018 crash. Judy added she gets angry when she sees pedestrians and drivers who aren’t paying attention.
“I imagine the last-minute terror Lucinda and George must have experienced,” Judy said.
“These are images I can’t seem to strike from my mind.”
George’s brother, John Bilant, also gave a statement, saying he still has moments of grief where he cries over his brother’s and Lucinda’s death. He also said he gets triggered by certain TV commercials, like ones for MADD or those meant to highlight the risks of speeding.
The rest of Bilant’s family was in Manitoba and couldn’t make it for the court appearance.
Case difficult for the court
Harpreet Kaur Sandhu pleaded guilty to one count of careless driving on Wednesday.
During the sentencing arguments, it was acknowledged the case was difficult for the court, with the judge saying: “We want to fix things, but there’s nothing we can do in this court to bring them back or alleviate your pain.”
The offence is one that “carries a significant degree of fault,” the judge said — but isn’t a criminal offence, rather a regulatory one.
Sandhu received the maximum sentence under the Traffic Safety Act: a $2,000 fine, 15 per cent victims fund surcharge which has to be paid within a year, and a 90-day driving suspension.
The judge told the family members she knew Christmas was coming and recognized it would be a hard time, encouraging them to “stay on the path” they were on and to focus on counselling.