The last time her parents saw Andrea Christidis was when they dropped her off at Western University last September.
The 19-year-old Scarborough student had just begun what was supposed to be the best time of her life.
“One month later, instead of celebrating her homecoming for Thanksgiving weekend, we were left with the tragic and unimaginable nightmare of planning her funeral,” her tearful mother, Georgia — her husband, Chris, and daughter, Alexia, beside her — said in a family statement read outside the London courthouse.
Earlier Wednesday, 25-year-old Jared Dejong pleaded guilty to driving with more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood in his system, last Oct. 7, causing death.
He had more than double the legal limit of alcohol in his system when he drove and killed.
The depth of the family’s despair was etched on their faces as they met reporters.
Around them was a phalanx of sadness — a large group of family and friends who came to London to support them in court.
As Christidis’s mother spoke, Dejong was hustled out of the courthouse with his family and friends.
In the courtroom, during a brief break, they’d rallied around him while he sat on a bench and sobbed.
It was an all too familiar story of a young man with no criminal record, who tempted fate by sliding behind the wheel after too much booze, and an innocent victim dead for unfathomable reasons:
A few drinks at a university bar.
A bad choice to get in the driver’s seat of his dad’s car.
Twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system.
A young woman walking along the sidewalk of what should have been a safe street on the university campus. Speed, lack of control. In an instant — tragedy.
Dejong, in a pressed suit and seated at the defence table, his face ashen, wept as assistant Crown attorney Joe Perfetto read out the agreed statement of facts about what happened last Oct. 7.
The courtroom was so packed, people had to stand in the back.
Behind Christidis’s devastated family in the Ontario Court of Justice sat rows and rows of young people, many wearing blue ribbons, friends from her hometown and others from Western.
Probably for almost all, it was their first and only time in a courtroom, their first brush with unthinkable tragedy involving someone they loved.
Their sobs were quiet, but constant. At the moment describing when Dejong’s car struck the teenager who wanted a career in medicine, the emotions ran so high that some had to leave the courtroom.
Perfetto told Justice Eleanor Schnall that Dejong, who wasn’t a Western student, had gone with some friends to The Spoke, a campus bar. He watched some sports on TV and had some drinks over the three to four hours they were there until about 10 p.m.
Then, he and three friends got in his dad’s Volkswagen Golf parked near the university’s Weldon Library. Their plan was to drive to a friend’s apartment on Richmond Street.
Dejong turned onto Lambton Drive, a street often busy with vehicles and pedestrians that runs through the campus. He drove around the roundabout at Alumni Hall and cut in front of a London Transit bus.
Some of his driving was caught on video-recording equipment in two of the city buses, video that may be played at Dejong’s sentencing hearing.
Witnesses said he was speeding toward University Drive and for a short time drove on the opposite side of the road. He blew through two stop signs and some drivers had to get out of his way. He reached the sharp turn east of Huron Drive that had a posted speed limit of 20 km/h, but witnesses said he was going too fast, with their estimates as high as 100 km/h.
A bus driver told police Dejong was driving “too fast for this environment,” the car “up on two wheels as they made the corner.”
Dejong lost control of the car on the turn, mounted the south sidewalk and struck Christidis from behind, throwing her 10 metres. The car then struck a concrete staircase and a lamp pole.
Christidis was gravely injured. Several people who were in the area, walking or in cars, ran to help her. Forty to 50 young people were there by the time police arrived.
One of Dejong’s passengers ran to Christidis, while the others ran toward University Drive, then returned. Dejong told the police he was the driver.
Based on what the officer saw, he arrested Dejong for dangerous driving and put him in his cruiser. Inside the car, he could smell alcohol on him and Dejong admitted he had been drinking.
He was taken to police headquarters, where he gave a breath sample with 171 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood — twice the legal limit of 80 mg.
Christidis succumbed to her injuries in hospital two days later on Oct. 9.
At his sentencing hearing April 28, Schnall will hear victim impact statements and details of Dejong’s pre-sentence report.
She said while she recognized it was “a stressful, emotional situation for everyone concerned,” she warned she may not be ready to sentence Dejong until a later date.
Outside court, Dejong’s defence lawyer Jim Dean said his client was “having a rough time, clearly . . . it’s a horrible situation for everybody.”
“He was very shaken up. It’s difficult to sit there knowing how the family feels about it, knowing what’s happened and what the outcome is,” Dean said.
“He’s extremely remorseful and I think that’s clear from his plea.”
Dejong is facing a prison sentence — the norm in impaired cases causing death — and Dean added that Dejong has “accepted responsibility.”
Christidis’s mother said Dejong’s guilty plea “validates everything that we are suffering,” and called on the justice system to send a strong message to curb impaired driving by imposing a lengthy sentence.
“He killed my daughter . . . Can anything ever bring my daughter back? No. But if there’s a message out there with severe, high sentences, maybe that would deter people.”
She said the family has kept a close eye on the high-profile Newmarket case of impaired driver Marco Muzzo, who killed three children and their grandfather just a week before the Western crash. “From Day 1 of that case, my daughter Andrea actually, she had felt so sad for that family,” Georgia Christidis said.
“She’d posted it on her Facebook . . . She was just such a responsible person and that bothered her so much that that type of thing had occurred.
“And to become a victim herself to the same type of crime . . . it’s just crazy.”
STATEMENT FROM THE CHRISTIDIS FAMILY
“Today we’re here in court to hear the accused plead guilty to impaired driving causing our daughter’s death. Today we heard he was drunk and he killed our daughter, our beautiful daughter Andrea. She did not deserve this fate. The last time we saw her alive, she was at her most happiest and we, her parents, at our most proudest when we dropped her off at school at Western in September to begin her academic studies. One month later, instead of celebrating her homecoming for Thanksgiving weekend, we left with the tragic and unimaginable nightmare of planning her funeral.
“No parent should ever have to bury their child. There is no greater pain than this. I will never be able to put into words how this has affected us — me her mother, her father, her sister, her grandparents, our large and extended loving family, her many life-long friends, her former teachers, her many new friends in her short time at Western, members of the community in Toronto and London, and many, many other people she touched in her short life.
“I don’t know how we are going to cope with her loss for the rest of our lives or when we will ever stop asking why. Why did this happen happen to our beautiful, intelligent and kind daughter who had so much to live for, so much love to share and so many dreams and aspirations to fulfill? We don’t wish this pain and suffering on any other family and we plead with our justice system to put an end to drinking and driving and the destruction, devastation and despair that it leaves behind.”
Source (with extra pictures): The London Free Press