Zachary James Holt, 27, was sentenced in North Vancouver Provincial Court on Friday on one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily harm.
Seventeen-year-old Grace Haines was out for a run on Jan. 25, 2021 when, around 10:15 p.m., Holt struck her in a white Honda Civic as she crossed East Keith Road at St. Andrews Avenue.
The collision propelled Haines into a tree before she landed on the median. Holt fled the scene, with one witness telling police he could hear tires screeching as the white civic turned onto St. Georges Avenue, the court heard at a sentencing hearing in North Vancouver provincial court on Wednesday (March 29).
It wasn’t until another driver came upon Haines a few minutes later that anyone called 911. That witness found Haines unconscious, bleeding from the mouth and breathing rapidly. She was rushed to Lions Gate Hospital and underwent emergency brain surgery.
Haines’ mother Andria wept in court as the Crown played a video of the collision captured by a nearby surveillance camera.
Officers on patrol were looking out for a vehicle matching the one described by the witness when a North Vancouver RCMP constable spotted the white Civic at Lynn Valley Centre.
As she prepared to box the vehicle in, Holt and his father got out. Holt was in tears and immediately told the officer “I was driving,” and “I didn’t mean to do it,” the court heard. Holt was preparing to return to the scene of the collision and turn himself in at the time, the judge acknowledged.
Holt was charged in July 2021. After first pleading not guilty in December that year, Holt changed his plea to guilty in October 2022.
Traumatic brain injury
Haines, meanwhile, has been left with life-changing injuries. Prior to the hit-and-run, she was a competitive athlete and straight-A student on track to study engineering in university. When she awoke from a coma after the crash, she was partially paralyzed on her left side. After a year of rehabilitation, she recovered much of her mobility but she lives with constant headaches, nerve damage in her left eye and damage to her vocal chords. The hardest part though has been on her emotions.
In a victim impact statement written for the court, Haines told of how the incident has impacted her.
“Every morning when I wake up, I am met with sadness of all the things I’ve lost,” she wrote, referring to her love of learning, her ability to deadlift 245 pounds, her memories, and the year of her life she should have spent celebrating with friends before starting university. “Knowing that someone hit me with the car and drove away caused me to feel a lot of pain and suffering.”
Speaking for the family in his own victim impact statement, her father Chris spoke of the devastating emotional and economic hardship flowing from the incident. Still, the family said they were not guided by hate or anger and did not want to see Holt in prison.
“I do not want this individual to have to go to jail and risk becoming something worse,” Chris said.
The Crown argued Holt should face a nine-month conditional sentence, putting him on house arrest for six months, plus three months of living under a curfew as well as a two-year driving ban and 50 hours of community service.
Holt's lawyer Rishi Gill argued a conditional sentence of three to six months would be more in line with past court decisions in similar cases.
Holt came from a troubled upbringing but established himself as a productive member of society, Gill said. Both the Crown and defence stressed that Holt has been genuinely remorseful for his panicked decision to leave Haines at the side of the road. Before the sentencing hearing adjourned, Holt was given the chance to express that to the Haines family himself.
“I want to take full responsibility for my actions,” he said. “I can’t fathom or understand what you guys have gone through and will continue to go through. I just want you guys to understand that I think about this every single day of my life as I’m sure you guys do. I will never forget this. I am just truly, truly, truly, truly sorry, from the bottom of my heart.”
Handing down his sentence, Judge Robert Hamilton acknowledged that Holt was otherwise a “man of good character” and that his moral culpability for the crime was at the “lower end of the spectrum” when compared with other hit-and-runs. But he added society will never accept behaviour like Holt’s.
“When an offender places their personal interests above their obligation to the victim and society at large, society will condemn and denounce the offender’s criminal choice,” he said. “Given society’s condemnation of this crime, the sentence imposed must send a message to the public that if you flee the scene of an accident, you will suffer a significant consequence.”
Hamilton sentenced Holt to four months of house arrest, during which time he is only allowed out for three hours per week unless it is for work or school, followed by two months of living under a curfew. He will also be banned from driving for 18 months and must complete 30 hours of community service.
Holt is facing a separate civil suit stemming from the collision.