'At times the grief feels like it's exploding in me'
Kassandra Kaulius aspired to become a teacher, was great at sports and was a "champion" thinker, speaker and listener.
"She represented the best in what we'd like to see in our young people," her aunt Sherri Todd told a full courtroom on Monday, crying as she described the horrendous impact the loss of the 22-year-old has had on her family.
"At times the grief feels like it's exploding in me," said Todd. "We will never be the same people again."
Kaulius' family and friends were in Surrey Provincial Court for the beginning of a two-day sentencing hearing for Natasha Warren, the driver who hit and killed Kassandra on May 3, 2011.
In July, Natasha Warren, 35, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death, impaired driving causing death, and failure to stop at an accident.
Monday morning, victim impact statements were also delivered by Kassandra's boyfriend Cody Schlamb and his parents.
(Kassandra's mom, dad, sister and brother were expected to read their victim impact statements Monday afternoon).
Schlamb – in a statement read by Crown prosecutor Crichton Pike – said there will always be a cloud hanging over his family and that Warren had "single-handedly" fractured his relationship to his family.
Directing his words to Warren, he said, "I made it my purpose in life that you did not kill two people that night."
His parents, who had grown to love Kassandra over the years, also expressed their extreme and ongoing grief. Alison Schlamb said it's been unbearable to watch her son go through such anguish and not be able to help him. Howard Schlamb said Kassandra rarely leaves his thoughts and reminders haunt him whenever he hears a song, or goes to a hockey game, or sees a tall blonde girl.
"This tragedy is so unnatural to be dealing with…" said Howard Schlamb through tears.
The court heard Monday that Warren and her longtime boyfriend bought wine and beer on the evening of May 3, 2011 and headed home to watch Game 3 of the Western Conference hockey semi-finals. They had dinner and while her boyfriend drank several beer, Warren drank an estimated bottle and a half of wine.
Warren then got in her company van after 9 p.m. It's unclear where she was going.
In the meantime, Kassandra (pictured below), who had been coaching and playing softball in Cloverdale, left the ballpark and headed home at about 10 p.m.
She was waiting to turn onto 152 Street from 64 Avenue when Warren's van slammed into the drivers' side of her red BMW, killing her instantly.
Crown prosecutor Pike said a power control module in Warren's van indicated she was going 103 km/h when she struck Kassandra's car.
Witnesses said the light Warren sailed through had been red for about 10 seconds, according to Pike, and that her van may have become slightly airborne as it crossed the train tracks just south of 64 Avenue prior to the crash.
Kassandra's dad, sister and other friends and family members left the courtroom briefly while the Crown described Kassandra's list of "catastrophic injuries," which included skull fractures, multiple lacerations and internal trauma. When paramedics arrived, she had no pulse.
Kassandra's mother remained in the courtroom, sobbing and wiping tears from her face as she heard the gruesome details.
Pike then described witness accounts of Warren looking into Kassadra's car briefly before hopping a fence and fleeing into a vacant treed lot nearby.
For the first time, the Kaulius family heard that Warren's boyfriend sent her a text message moments earlier telling her to get out of the car and take off, and that they could report the van stolen.
A witness tracked Warren down, laying in some grass down an embankment. He described her as "totally wrecked… drunk as a skunk," said Pike.
The arresting RCMP officers said Warren's eyes were glazed, she was slurring, smelled of booze and was staggering. A breathalyzer measured her blood alcohol level at 160 mg – twice the legal limit.
During a break from the sentencing hearing Monday, Kassandra's mom and dad, Markita and Victor Kaulius, said they were feeling the same thing that they'd felt every day since their daughter's death: pain.
They also spoke about how preventable the death was and encouraged people to stop drinking and driving.
"We have to stop tolerating this," said Markita, referring to the 1,074 impaired driving deaths in Canada last year. "Families are being destroyed. We got a life sentence. Our daughter got a death sentence."
Warren has no prior criminal record, but has had five speeding tickets in the past 12 years, two driving infractions, and two driving prohibitions.
She sat quietly beside her lawyer during court Monday and left quickly with family without speaking with media. Her supporters also wept in the courtroom during the hearing.
Sentencing arguments were expected to wrap up Tuesday. It was uncertain as of Monday when the judge would deliver his sentence.