Brad Aschenbrenner’s home is filled with photos and memories of his late wife, Const. Sarah Beckett.
Two large pictures of Beckett smiling hang on the wall near the dining table. One of the photos is surrounded by notes of condolence and love from community members, written around the time she died.
Aschenbrenner decorated the home for Christmas. He and his two sons, eight-year-old Lucas and five-year-old Emmitt, hung a stocking for Beckett filled with cards and unscratched lottery tickets from them.
“The first Christmas without her was unbearable,” Aschenbrenner said. “The second one was unbearable but after a tragic loss like this, you start piecing stuff together the best you can. But it doesn’t seem like this is letting us out.”
Aschenbrenner was pointing to print-outs of news stories published the day before about the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) claiming Beckett was negligent when she was killed after being struck by a drunk driver.
In 2016, Beckett, a 32-year-old mother of two boys, had recently returned from maternity leave when she was killed in the line of duty in Langford. One year later, Kenneth Jacob Fenton was handed a four-year prison sentence for charges of impaired driving and dangerous driving causing death.
Beckett was killed after her police cruiser was struck by Fenton’s pickup truck which was speeding through the intersection of Peatt Road and Goldstream Avenue.
Fenton’s blood-alcohol level was three-and-a-half times the legal limit. He was already being pursued by an RCMP officer in a different police vehicle because his taillights were not illuminated and he was travelling almost double the 50 kilometres per hour posted speed limit.
In March 2018, the Attorney General of Canada filed a claim against Fenton and ICBC in an effort to recoup the costs of Beckett’s damaged RCMP cruiser. In a response, ICBC denied facts in the claim and said the cause of the crash was Beckett’s negligence.
While at the grocery store on Friday, Aschenbrenner received a message from a friend alerting him to a story that was published about ICBC’s claim.
“I just saw the headline and I froze, I couldn’t move,” Aschenbrenner said. “Why, on Dec. 20, five days before Christmas, was this released? And why was I not contacted?”
Aschenbrenner said seeing a negative story about Beckett without being warned was difficult, especially during a time when he’s trying to put on a happy face for his sons before the holidays. While he said he understands news stories have to be reported, he said the timing of this and the inability to serve as a voice for Beckett in the story was what he didn’t understand.
Since Aschenbrenner wasn’t involved in the civil suit, he did not previously know the details of it.
ICBC accused Beckett of 14 allegations including “failing to keep a proper or any lookout,” “failing to see the defendant’s motor vehicle at a reasonable time” and “failing to give warning by sounding the horn.” ICBC also said Beckett had a duty of care to Fenton.
These statements were later retracted by ICBC with an apology. The corporation said its counsel was instructed to amend their defence to admit Fenton is fully liable for the crash.
Holding the news articles in his hand, Aschenbrenner read out some of ICBC’s allegations with tears in his eyes.
“How do you have a duty of care to your killer?” Aschenbrenner asked. “Sarah’s killer was sentenced in 2017. A year later they still say it’s Sarah’s fault. It’s too late to apologize. I’m not going to accept that.”
Aschenbrenner said stories like this are not fair to him, his family, the RCMP and the first responders who wear their badge daily to defend the public.
He also said he didn’t want his sons to know these allegations came out.
“I don’t want them to have any doubt that this was not Sarah’s fault,” Aschenbrenner said. “We talk about her every day. I still have to instil how much of a special person, a mother, she was.”
Noting his thanks to community members for all of their support over the past years, Aschenbrenner said he’s still figuring out where to go from here.
“She sacrificed her life for us and we need to remember that,” Aschenbrenner said. “They need to answer to this and not just say ‘I’m sorry.’”