'She has been denied her beautiful and wonderful life': Family of killed pedestrian shed tears at court
The driver who killed Erica Stark in 2014 has been found guilty of careless driving. The sentence? A $1,000 fine and a six-month driving ban.
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The toll that Toronto’s deadly streets take on their victims was on full display inside a small courtroom at Old City Hall on Monday morning,
The family of Erica Stark fought back tears as they read victim impact statements, describing how the loss of their mother, sister, wife and daughter has affected them. And they breathed a collective sigh of relief when the woman who killed her was convicted of careless driving.
Erica, 42, was on the sidewalk at Midland Avenue and Gilder Drive on Nov. 6, 2014, when a Dodge Caravan swerved onto the curb, crashed through a bus stop and a traffic control box and hit her, sending her body hurtling into the intersection.
The minivan’s driver, 35-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, was sentenced Monday to a $1,000 fine and a six-month driving ban. After the first 30 days, she’ll be allowed to drive to and from work and once a week to run errands, like shopping for groceries.
Justice of the Peace Lynette Stethem said two witnesses saw Taylor driving “faster than usual” but noted the court was unable to determine if she was speeding.
Erica’s widower, David Stark, called the sentence “inadequate,” but also an important moment in his family’s healing process.
“That was the biggest relief. Just getting that conviction,” he said.
No sentence can bring Erica back, but David believes stiffer penalties for drivers who kill or seriously injure pedestrians could prevent other families from suffering through the same tragedy.
“The maximum fine for careless driving is $2,000. It should be $50,000,” he said. “The number of pedestrians and cyclists losing their lives on Toronto’s deadly streets has been increasing and we need to find a better way to deter drivers.”
Still waiting for answers
Even with Monday’s guilty verdict, Erica Stark’s family says they’re still searching for closure.
Elizabeth Taylor did not testify at trial, and the defense offered no explanation for her actions, opting instead to cast doubt on the police reconstruction of the collision.
That means Erica’s family still has no answer to the most important question: why did she die?
“Only she knows really what went on in that vehicle. We may never have the answers,” David said after the verdict was handed down.
Erica’s father, Edward Bissinger, remains outraged that Taylor was never required to explain her side of the story – even after being convicted.
“I don’t understand how a guilty driver can remain silent,” he said.
The family is hoping to shed light on one piece of the puzzle in the new year. They’ve launched a civil suit against Taylor and will be in court Jan. 6 to ask Telus her to produce her cellphone records from the time of the collision.
Taylor refused an earlier request to provide the records, the Starks’ lawyer, Patrick Brown, told Metro.
"I wanted her to understand"
When Erica Stark’s mother, Linda Bissinger, talked Monday about losing a child – how it seems to “upset the natural order” – Elizabeth Taylor stared straight ahead.
As Erica’s father, Edward Bissinger, described how every holiday and “happy occasion” is also a painful reminder of his daughter’s death, she hung her head.
But when David Stark described how his sons struggle growing up without a mother, Taylor let out a wail and began to sob.
It was a rare scene in provincial courtrooms. Those charged with careless driving are not required to attend sentencing hearings – and many drivers don’t.
That’s something David wants to change. As a founding member of Friends and Families for Safe Streets, he’s calling on the province to make attendance at sentencing – where victim impact statements are read – mandatory.
“I wanted her to understand how Erica’s death affected all of us,” he said. “That’s part of justice.”
Below is an excerpt from David Star's victim impact statement. The subject matter may be difficult for some readers:
“I miss her more than I am able to express. Nov. 6, 2014, was the hardest, worst day in my life and in the lives of our children. When a police officer knocked on our front door, entered our house and delivered the news to me, my world as I knew it then was gone. When our children came home from school I had to tell them that their mother had been killed. I was a wreck. They had never seen their father break down the way I did. They were scared and I had not yet uttered the dreadful news. The weight of it was crushing. The fear and shock in their tear-filled faces and the agony they felt was horrible for them to experience and for me to witness.
“For a month following Erica’s death, I did not sleep much. I lay in bed crying and thinking about what I could have done to prevent her death. I took some comfort hearing the sound of my sons breathing as they slept in my bed. When they woke up in tears, I tried my best to comfort them. Dylan and Gavin returned to their beds after a few weeks, but Matthew slept next to me for 13 months. I didn’t have the heart to suggest that it was time for him to sleep in his own bed. He is having a very difficult time coping. He is angry and, on a couple of occasions, has said that he wants to commit suicide. My heart breaks when I think about the pain and sadness he feels. He is just seven years old.”