Cyclist Charles Masala died instantly when he was hit by a drunk driver on the side of Burnaby Mountain in June 2019.
His widow, Michelle Masala knows that, but she is still haunted by the thought of his last moments as he lay beside Gaglardi Way – left like “pieces of garbage” after the hit-and-run.
“I still imagine those last neurons firing in his brain as he left us, and all he would have felt is grief,” she said in a victim impact statement read out during a sentencing hearing in Vancouver provincial court Tuesday.
For hours at the hearing, Masala’s widow, mother, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and friends voiced their grief at the sudden, jarring loss of a “vibrant, energetic” man with a great smile, big laugh and generous heart.
The court also heard from people in Masala’s native Zambia, where the 53-year-old engineer and father of two young children helped found a school and supported other community projects.
“I know there will never be a conclusion that will equal the loss experienced by all of us,” said his widow. “The impact can’t be fully explained because it is not known yet. How can we predict the future for my children without their father? How will they feel when they graduate high school, get married, have children, struggle through life’s difficulties and grow old, knowing their father never did? They were just babies when their father passed, and they will spend every day for the rest of their lives with this tragedy as part of their very identity.”
Surrey resident Sumeet Mangat, 25, has pleaded guilty to drunk driving causing death and leaving the scene of the crash that killed Masala on June 29, 2019.
He was working as a car salesman at DriveCo Motors in Coquitlam at the time and had left the car lot in a Jeep Cherokee owned by the company with a coworker to get lunch, according to agreed facts presented in court.
He’d been in an argument over text message that day with a woman he was in a relationship with and had been seen drinking at work.
At the end of a long curve at the base of Burnaby Mountain, the Cherokee encroached into the bike lane going between 71 and 85 kilometers per hour and hit Masala, killing him instantly.
“After the collision, Mr. Mangat initially slowed down but then sped up and continued up Burnaby Mountain,” read the statement of facts.
He was arrested on Burnaby Mountain after the vehicle, which had sustained serious damage, stopped working.
In two tests, he was found to have had blood-alcohol levels of 200 and 190 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.
Crown prosecutor Mark Myhre called for Mangat to be sentenced to between three and four years in federal prison and banned from driving for 10 years.
He pointed to his driving record as one of the most important aggravating factors in the case, saying Mangat’s behaviour behind the wheel had drawn “stern warnings” for years before the accident and he didn’t even have a driver’s licence when he hit and killed Masala.
Myhre also noted the high level of alcohol in Mangat’s blood and the fact that he’d been speeding and took off after hitting Masala.
Mangat’s lawyer Paul McMurray, meanwhile, called for a two-year provincial sentence and three years of probation.
He pointed to Mangat’s guilty plea as an important mitigating factor.
He also noted his client had no prior criminal record and had stopped drinking and gotten counselling after the accident, even before charges were approved against him.
At the time of the fatal crash, McMurray said Mangat had been drinking about a mickey of vodka a day in an effort to self-medicate for an anxiety disorder.
Now, he is sober and pursuing engineering studies at Kwantlen University and volunteering at his Gurdwara, according to McMurray.
“The picture that emerges … is of a young man who got a wake-up call that he should have received earlier, but he got this one and he got it independent of charges coming,” McMurray said.
Mangat addressed the court, saying there were no words that could express his remorse.
“There’s not been a day that has gone by that I’m not thinking about this,” he said.
He described himself as a person who “slipped for a period of time”
“I’m not the person that this incident has portrayed me to be,” he said.
He pledged to dedicate himself to charity work and his engineering studies as a way of “paying tribute” to Masala’s life and career.
“I just need a chance,” he said.
B.C. provincial court Judge Reginald Harris will deliver his sentence sometime in the New Year.
Mangat’s next court date is Jan. 4 to set a date for sentencing.