Jason Van Winkle will spend the next three years behind bars in the wake of an unprovoked drug- and booze-fuelled assault that left a man dead in a Rock Bay motel in March 2011.
Van Winkle, 37, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Gilles Alain Thibodeau, 41, in July. Today in B.C. Supreme Court, Justice Laura Gerow sentenced the View Royal man to three and a half years years, minus credit for six and a half months for time in custody.
Van Winkle, who has a criminal history spanning 22 years, featuring 50 convictions for drug offenses, three assaults and a robbery, apologized to the victim’s family and his family. His mother was in the courtroom.
“I’ll live with this for the rest of my life. I just want to apologize and say I’m sorry,” Van Winkle told the court this morning.
The victim's elderly parents, who live in eastern Canada, did not attend court. Thibodeau's sister sent a letter describing her brother as smart and witty, but who struggled with addictions. "He was loved by his family and it's a loss that will be felt forever," Gerow said, reading the letter.
The sentence is in line with a joint recommendation of Crown counsel and Van Winkle's defense lawyer Tom Morino. Gerow noted that Van Winkle has a lengthy criminal record and unprovoked, he attacked and beat a much smaller man, but she also took into account that he has shown remorse and co-operated with investigators.
Crown prosecutor Dale Marshall described the events leading to Thibodeau’s death, and the pathologist’s report on the cause of death, in an agreed statement of facts.
On March 15, 2011, Van Winkle hired Thibodeau and three other men for a job moving a family from Duncan to Victoria using a truck owned by Van Winkle.
On the second of three trips to finish the job, Thibodeau and two of the men drove to Duncan, but en route “became sidetracked” and started drinking alcohol. They eventually ran out of gas, abandoned the truck on the side of the road and ran off. Police called Van Winkle, who was forced to drive to Duncan, fetch the truck and finish the moving job.
The night of March 15, three of the men, Van Winkle and his girlfriend partied in suite 121 of the former Traveller’s Inn at 2828 Rock Bay Ave., consuming large amounts of alcohol and crack cocaine. Van Winkle consumed heroin, crack and alcohol, the court heard.
In the early morning of March 16, Marshall said Van Winkle started becoming obsessed with a supposed missing key for his mother’s house, and accused Thibodeau of stealing it.
Van Winkle, a large, stocky man, suddenly attacked Thibodeau, a slight, 147-pound man, easily kicking him to the floor and then kneeling on his chest.
“He was on Mr. Thibodeau’s chest hitting Mr. Thibodeau in the face with a closed fist repeatedly, six or seven times ... saying ‘Where’s my key? Where’s my key?’” Marshall said. “Nobody expected it. If anything, Mr. Thibodeau was moving away from Mr. Van Winkle.”
In the moments before police arrived, Van Winkle realized Thibodeau was unresponsive and performed CPR on his victim. Victoria police officers arrived at the room around 2:50 a.m. and saw Thibodeau on the floor, eyes and mouth open, face blue and pale and not breathing.
Officers began CPR, and paramedics continued compressions en route to Victoria General Hospital and managed to induce a faint pulse. Thibodeau suffered a significant brain injury from a lack of oxygen. He was taken off life support on March 22, 2011, and died soon after.
At the Traveller's Inn, police arrested Van Winkle on suspicion of manslaughter – which over the next days and months veered to aggravated assault, second degree murder and finally back to manslaughter. Marshall described the incident as a prolonged assault on a defenseless man of considerable size difference.
“(Van Winkle) was overheard by police saying over and over again, ‘Please don’t let him die. Please don’t let him die. Please don’t let him die,’” Marshall said.
Marshall said the pathologist report revealed Thibodeau died of a lack of oxygen to the brain due to a heart attack, which resulted from a combination of acute intoxication from crack cocaine and having Van Winkle’s full weight on his chest. He had several broken ribs.
The punches to Thibodeau’s head weren’t deemed a contributing factor in his death.
Morino pointed out that the pathologist’s report said it is difficult to know the degree to which the physical altercation contributed to Thibodeau’s death.
“Mr. Van Winkle pleaded guilty out of a sense of remorse. This is a significant mitigating factor,” Morino told the court.