Warning: This story contains disturbing details.
A man who witnessed a motorist strike 11-year-old Leila Bui in a Saanich crosswalk nearly two years ago says he watched the little girl get thrown towards his car before sliding, on her back, and coming to rest next to his driver’s side door.
North Saanich woman Tenessa Nikirk faces one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm in relation to the crash that left Bui severely debilitated, with severe brain injuries and multiple internal injuries. Nikirk was in a Victoria courtroom Monday for the first day of trial. She dabbed at her eyes as witnesses came forward.
On the morning of Dec. 20, 2017, Steven Kachanoski was taking his son to an orthodontist appointment. He says he was driving west on Ash Road when he noticed a little girl entering the crosswalk near Torquay Drive, and a dark-coloured SUV coming from the opposite direction.
“I pretty quickly noticed the oncoming car wasn’t stopping,” Kachanoski told the courtroom. “At that point I started to brake to stop. I witnessed the vehicle [that was] coming towards me in the other lane hit the girl.”
Kachanoski couldn’t say if the driver of the SUV had been speeding – but he says he was confident they weren’t going to stop for the girl in the intersection.
“She was thrown towards our car, I remember her sliding on her back…she did hit the lower front fender of our car, she was sliding towards [me] on her back and she ended up near the driver’s side door.”
Scared to further injure her, Kachanoski called 911 and crawled out the passenger side door as people ran over to help, also calling emergency services.
Another witness described being tailgated by a dark SUV as she drove to work at the University of Victoria that morning.
Samantha Etzel says she was driving a little slower than usual because there was frost on the roads. She says the driver of a black or dark SUV was following her so closely she couldn’t see the front of the car.
“I seen the driver constantly looking up and down as if they were texting,” she told the court. “It was a female driver, she had her hair up, sort of in a bun.”
Once she turned onto Ash Road, the driver of the SUV passed her. It wasn’t until she reached Torquay Drive that she saw the vehicle again – this time pulled to the side of the road. Etzel recalls seeing a young girl’s sneaker or sock laying in the intersection and realizing what had happened.
Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since the morning she was struck on her walk to school. Now 13, the young girl’s family remains hopeful – but says their lives are changed irrevocably.
“I didn’t really want to hear any of this stuff at the beginning,” says Bui’s mother, Kairry Nguyen. “I was more focused on Leila and her recovery. I knew she got hit, I didn’t know she got hit that hard.”
And Bui’s health is still at risk. Earlier this year she was hospitalized due to complications from a shunt that had been placed in her head to drain fluids from her brain.
“That was a very scary time for her and of course for us,” Nguyen says. “It was kind of like the accident happening all over again. They weren’t sure if she was going to pull through.”
Bui survived the infection and is now shunt-free, but the little girl remains non-responsive and needs constant care.
“It happened so fast and it changed all of our lives,” Nguyen says through tears. “Our little girl, she’s there but she’s still not there.”
Bui’s father Tuan says the family relies on faith and hope, and the belief that their daughter will come back.
“It’s hard to know what’s happening inside her,” he says. “So we just continue to take good care of her, give her love and support and positive energy and whatever it takes to get one step closer.”
The family has filed civil law suits against Nikirk and the District of Saanich.
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