When Matthew Hildebrand ran over 82-year-old George Birch with his tow truck, he robbed the world of a "kind-hearted man" who would "give the shirt off his back to anyone who wanted it."
"I can’t say I forgive you, but I hope you have remorse for taking a life," George’s son, Jeff Birch, wrote in a victim impact statement read at Hildebrand’s sentencing Wednesday. "I certainly hope with time you become a person who makes better choices in life."
George Birch died June 15, 2021, after he interrupted Hildebrand and another man stealing property from his business, Jimmy Diesel Parts Company, on Logan Avenue.
“I can’t say I forgive you, but I hope you have remorse for taking a life.” – Jeff Birch, George Birch's son
Hildebrand, 23, was originally charged with manslaughter but pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count each of dangerous driving causing death, leaving the scene of an accident and theft. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Court heard Hildebrand ran his own business securing old vehicles and stripping them for parts.
"He’s very industrious," defence lawyer Mike Cook told Queen’s Bench Justice Sheldon Lanchbery. "Unfortunately, he used his tow truck for nefarious purposes and with an older man put together a plan to visit Jimmy Diesel’s and steal property from the lot."
According to an agreed statement of facts provided to court, Hildebrand and a co-accused broke into the Logan Avenue compound multiple times in the two days prior to Birch’s death and used Hildebrand’s tow truck to steal several vehicles, including a tow truck, a GMC crane truck, a New Holland skid steer and Birch’s 1984 Mercedes.
At one point, an acquaintance of Birch’s spotted Hildebrand and his co-accused on the property and questioned why they were there. Hildebrand’s co-accused told the man they were removing property at the behest of Birch’s lawyer.
When the acquaintance saw the same two men at the compound around 8 a.m. on June 15, he alerted Birch. Birch and the acquaintance confronted the intruders, who again claimed they were working for the business owner’s lawyer.
As Birch’s companion called police, Hildebrand’s co-accused fled through the compound gate while Hildebrand moved toward his tow truck.
Birch followed Hildebrand to the tow truck and was run over as Hildebrand made a sharp left turn to escape.
"The Crown accepts that at this point Matthew Hildebrand was panicking and did not want to get caught for stealing, and did not intend to hit George Birch with the tow truck," Crown attorney Kelsey Harrison told court, reading from the agreed statement of facts.
"However, Matthew Hildebrand knew George Birch was standing near the front of the tow truck on the driver’s side immediately before he accelerated to leave and his view of George Birch was not obstructed in any way," Harrison said.
Police arrested Hildebrand two hours later at his own rented compound on Mission Street, where he was spotted driving the same skid steer stolen from Jimmy Diesel.
Hildebrand apologized to Birch’s family, saying he understood if they could not forgive him. "I know apologies can’t undo things, but nonetheless I am sorry," he said. "I pray that they can find closure today."
Lanchbery credited Hildebrand for time served, reducing his remaining sentence to approximately three years and nine months. Lanchbery also ordered Hildebrand be prohibited from driving for 15 years.
Hildebrand’s co-accused was charged with one count of break and enter. The charge was later stayed.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.