During a nearly 30-year career with the Winnipeg Police Service, Sue Zuk-Boyer was at the scene of countless highway fatalities.
But never in her worst nightmare did she think a tragic collision would claim her son’s life.
"How do I explain how empty I am and how my life is not the same," Zuk-Boyer told a judge Wednesday. "This devastating event has changed my life forever and my heart will never be whole again."
Ethan Boyer, Zuk-Boyer’s 19-year-old son, died Oct. 25, 2019, after his car was rear-ended by a semi-trailer on the Perimeter Highway, near Brady Road.
"I don’t remember much from my police days and all the trauma at scenes I witnessed, but Ethan’s passing has done me in," Zuk-Boyer said, her voice choked with tears.
"I think of his vehicle sitting at the Perimeter and praying he didn’t see the truck coming in the rear-view, and pray that he did not suffer. I’m sad that I was not there to hold his hand and tell him that everything was going to be OK."
The driver of the truck, 28-year-old Samuel Maendel pleaded guilty to one count of careless driving causing death under the Highway Traffic Act. In a sentence jointly recommended by the Crown and defence, he was fined $2,000 and prohibited from driving for two years.
According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, Maendel was behind the wheel of a semi-truck and trailer loaded with gravel, heading east on the south Perimeter approaching the Brady Road intersection, when a pickup truck pulling a 10-foot trailer pulled out from Brady Road on to the Perimeter, partially blocking the eastbound lane.
Boyer, who was ahead of Maendel driving a Honda Accord in the left-hand passing lane, and the driver of another semi-truck and trailer ahead of Boyer, both slowed down, while Maendel swerved into the right lane, causing a driver in that lane to veer onto the shoulder.
Maendel swerved back into the left-hand lane and began to apply his brakes before crashing into the rear of Boyer’s car, pushing it into the rear of the semi-truck ahead of him.
"The Honda was crushed between the two Peterbilt trucks, compressing the vehicle to less than half its original length," Crown attorney Colin Soul said, reading from the agreed statement of facts.
Emergency responders, including the STARS air ambulance, arrived at the crash scene and "it was quickly determined that Boyer was deceased as it was not a survivable incident," Soul said.
One witness described Maendel "driving like a dumbass." Another said it appeared as if Maendel was not paying attention.
A report written by an RCMP accident reconstructionist concluded Maendel was driving at a top speed of 106 km/h before slowing to a minimum speed of 78 km/h at the time he collided with Boyer’s car.
"Operating a motor vehicle is a complex skill, best characterized as a divided attention task," Cpl. Ryan Cadotte wrote in his report, concluding driver inattention or distraction may have been a contributing factor in the collision. "This task becomes so familiar to most that it is often overlooked or taken for granted. In the case of commercial vehicles with larger mass, this becomes critical due to their inability to stop with the same efficiency of conventional brakes."
Soul spent nearly two hours reading from over a dozen victim impact statements detailing the pain and despair Boyer’s death has caused his family.
Boyer was killed while on his way to the University of Manitoba, where he was taking computer sciences. He was an avid hockey player, who never drove anywhere without his hockey gear. He loved animals. Friends and cousins described him as a caring and selfless young man with a "gigantic heart" and a bright future.
"He could and would have done anything he wanted," one cousin said. "He was that intelligent. Ethan would do anything for anyone, without hesitation."
Ethan’s family will never know the man he was on the way to becoming, his father Dana Boyer told court.
"The struggle to keep our family together is almost as difficult as losing Ethan, all because you could not be bothered to slow down," Boyer said. "I hope you have a small idea of what pain you have caused and the fact that this world is a lot less bright without Ethan in it."
Maendel, a member of the Blue Clay Hutterite Colony, was hauling a full load of gravel back to the colony at the time the collision occurred, said his lawyer Sean Brennan.
"He has not driven a semi since the accident and I have it from the colony that he will not be driving a semi again," Brennan said.
Earlier in the hearing, Zuk-Boyer urged Maendel to make a donation every year to a scholarship in Ethan’s name or donate to the ‘Tin for a Critter Bin’ pet charity established in his honour. Brennan said both Maendel and the colony will honour that request.
"There will be significant and meaningful contributions from the colony in that regard," Brennan said.
Maendel apologized to Boyer’s parents and brother in court, saying he thinks about the collision every day, and outside court during a break in proceedings.
"I waited 782 days to hear ‘I’m sorry,’" Dana Boyer said later outside court. "It meant a lot. I was surprised at the relief at hearing him say that… I also appreciated him for stepping up and standing up and taking responsibility, because nowadays not a lot of people do. That made it easier to start forgiving."
The intersection where Ethan was killed no longer exists, due in part to tireless lobbying by his family. In the eight years prior to Ethan’s death, the south Perimeter near the Brady Road landfill was the site of at least four fatal collisions.
"That intersection should have been changed 10 years before Ethan was born," Dana Boyer said. "We all need to slow down."
Zuk-Boyer said family members remain disappointed Maendel was not charged under the Criminal Code, which would have allowed for some kind of restitution or community service and, in the family’s view, more accountability.
"Although there was never any intent to kill Ethan that day, semi drivers should be held to a higher standard than grandma driving down the road," Zuk-Boyer said. "They are weapons carrying heavy loads."
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.