The day after Jason Gourlay veered off the road and into a teenager sitting on a sidewalk waiting for a bus, killing her instantly, he took his Jeep to a car wash and sprayed it down.
He knew police might be looking for him. He noticed lights and sirens headed toward the area of the crash as he drove home the night before.
|Jason Gourlay (right) walks with his lawyer into the Kamloops Law Courts on Wednesday morning.
Photograph By DAVE EAGLES
Gourlay also knew police were looking for a vehicle with damage to its right front end. A short time before he visited the car wash, police issued a news release saying they were looking for a vehicle with damage to the “front passenger side.”
So he also removed the damaged right signal light from the front of his Jeep and discarded it. Then he took the left signal and mounted it where the right one had been.
That is what Gourlay’s Jeep looked like when police found it parked outside his home in Dufferin on Nov. 6, 2014.
Jennifer Gatey died two days earlier, on the eve of her 17th birthday. The bus she was waiting for when she was killed would have taken her to Thompson Rivers University, where she was planning to meet her boyfriend.
The stop where Gatey was killed was on Pacific Way south of Aberdeen Drive, less than a block from her family’s home.
“The circumstances of this case are heartbreaking because they involve the death of a young girl on the hopeful cusp of the rest of her life,” Crown prosecutor Neil Flanagan said Wednesday in front of more than 30 people in a Kamloops courtroom.
“The whole community of Kamloops has been deeply affected by Jennifer’s death.”
When Gourlay struck Gatey, he was headed to his mother’s house to drop off her dog, which he had just taken for a walk. According to Gourlay, he was “momentarily distracted by movements of the dog” inside his Jeep, causing him to veer onto the sidewalk and into Gatey.
Investigators would later determine Gourlay’s Jeep was travelling at a speed of about 55 km/h when it hit Gatey.
“The area just below the Jeep’s right front signal light came in contact with Ms. Gatey’s head, resulting in her immediate death,” Flanagan told court, reading from an agreed statement of facts.
“The Crown accepts that Mr. Gourlay did not see Ms. Gatey either before or after the collision. Security video from nearby homes and a witness who heard the collision confirm that Mr. Gourlay did not stop at the scene of the collision, but continued on his way at an unchanged speed.”
Court heard Gourlay conducted a quick visual inspection of his Jeep outside his mother’s nearby home while dropping off her dog.
“He did not see any obvious damage,” the agreed statement of facts reads. “After dropping his dog off, he drove to his home in Dufferin. On his way, he noticed emergency vehicles headed to Aberdeen.”
Firefighters were the first emergency crews to arrive at the scene, responding to a 911 call from a neighbour who heard the collision that killed Gatey.
Kamloops Fire Rescue was on scene at 6:41 p.m., about 10 minutes after the incident. Two hours later, police issued their first news release advising drivers Pacific Way was closed in both directions due to a motor-vehicle incident.
The next day, a Saturday, Mounties sent out a more detailed release and plea for information. Just after noon, the release said investigators were looking for the driver of a vehicle with damage to its front passenger side.
“By Saturday afternoon, Mr. Gourlay knows that he collided with Ms. Gatey,” the agreed statement of facts reads.
Gourlay then went to a car wash, where video surveillance showed him spraying down his Jeep — which was missing a front-right signal light.
When police found the vehicle on Gourlay’s driveway a day later, it was missing the signal light from its front driver’s side.
“On closer examination of the Jeep, they [police] note that it appears that the driver’s side signal light has been moved to the passenger side,” the agreed statement of facts reads.
“Subsequent forensic examination confirms that this has occurred and that steps taken to complete the swap include snapping off alignment tabs on the driver’s side signal light to make it fit the passenger side. In pleading guilty to count No. 2 [obstructing justice], Mr. Gourlay acknowledges that he washed his vehicle and swapped the front signal lights to obstruct the police investigation into the death of Jennifer Gatey.”
Flanagan urged B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather MacNaughton to impose a prison sentence in the range of 11 to 14 months, minus five months for time served, as well as a two-year driving prohibition.
“Mr. Gourlay was wilfully blind to what had occurred,” he said. “Rather than turn himself in, he took steps to destroy evidence.”
Defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen is expected to suggest a sentence of time served, noting the time Gourlay has spent behind bars has been less than ideal given the notoriety of his case. Jensen will make his submissions on Wednesday afternoon.
In his submissions, Flanagan mentioned an incident in which Gourlay was attacked by a fellow prisoner at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre.
“Mr. Gourlay was assaulted while in custody,” Flanagan said. “The person who assaulted him was aware of the allegations against Mr. Gourlay. It was a serious assault that included a broken jaw and other injuries.”
Flanagan said there were “difficulties” with the Crown’s case, which he considered while discussing a potential guilty plea.
“The outcome of the trial was something less than certain,” Flanagan said, noting issues could have included proving who was driving the Jeep at the time of the crash and whether the driver ought to have known a collision took place.
“There would have been triable issues. This would have been a long and complicated case. What I want to emphasize is the value — the tremendous value — of finality.”
After Jensen’s submissions, Gourlay will be given the opportunity to address court.
It’s not yet known when MacNaughton might make a decision on sentence.