Mara Balach

Courtesy of the family
Mara Balach was killed after being hit by a car in 2015.

The tragedy of inattentive driving is painfully clear to Mara Balach’s adult children as they struggle to comprehend how the driver who killed their mother got just a fine and a few months’ licence suspension.

Balach’s extended family and three children were in provincial offences court Wednesday for the sentencing of Stephanie Bautista, 33, of Stoney Creek.

Bautista struck and killed Balach, 81, as she walked inside a crosswalk on Queenston Road at Reid Avenue at 9:55 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2015 and had the right of way, court heard.

The court also heard heart wrenching victim impact statements from Balach’s sons before Bautista, a mother of three young girls under eight, gave a tearful apology. She had moments earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act.

But for Balach’s family, the apology and the light sentence — a $1,200 fine and a five-month licence suspension — were unbearable and unforgivable.

“This is a farce,” said the victim’s youngest son Bob Balach, 52, outside court afterwards. “… if I ran over a dog, I’d get a longer suspension.”

However, Justice of the Peace Kerri Boon said during sentencing “the court has to make a decision based on the charge before it … There is nothing else I can do.”

There is no evidence of alcohol, speed, or cellphone use — and Bautista has no driving or criminal record, court heard. Boon said there was no evidence this was caused “by any other action other than temporary inattentiveness.”

The prosecution and defence lawyers suggested a three-month licence suspension and $1,200 fine. Boon increased the suspension to five months, but imposed the $1,200 fine, saying “there is no price on the life of a human being.”

Bob Balach told the court earlier the accident changed his life into a living hell of depression and sadness.

“By 4 o’clock that afternoon, while Stephanie Bautista was picking up her kids from school and making supper for them, we were faced with making the hardest decision anybody ever would have to make — ending my mother’s life (by taking her off life support).”

Doctors told the family that Balach had suffered severe brain damage — “and that the blood that was coming out of her ears was not just blood; it was brain matter,” he sobbed, adding he didn’t want his mom remembered just as Hamilton’s 17th pedestrian fatality in 2015.

She “worked her hands to the bone to make ends meet and feed her children” after a “horrific beginning” in the former Yugoslavia where she was orphaned at age seven in the midst of a brutal Nazi occupation, he said.

But his mother was the healthiest person he ever met, he added. She walked 20 to 30 km a day.

His brother Peter told the court “It breaks my heart that her happy, productive, energetic, vibrant life should end in such a senseless, inexplicable and totally unnecessary and brutal fashion … She was the most cautious walker you could ever meet. She never jaywalked. She was always attentive, safe, careful.”

Bob said her grandparents lived to be more than 100 and there’s little doubt she would have lived that long too.

He said through tears, “Mrs. Bautista, when you’re celebrating Christmas and Easter or birthdays, think of us. We are at the cemetery crying …

“When you see your family, hug them and kiss them and tell them you love them because there might be other people driving like you — selfish, and only thinking of themselves and not caring what harm they do …”

Bautista wept uncontrollably as she told the court and Balach family, “I know you look at me and think I am a monster. I am truly, truly, truly sorry … every day.”

Source: The Hamilton Spectator