author: elisabeth sahlmueller | staff writer
flickr via peter cruickshank
The denying of responsibility for a crime by placing the blame on someone else – the victim – is a frequent problem in our society. A recent example of this concerns first-year Western University (WU) student Andrea Christidis, who was killed in October 2015 by drunk driver Jared Dejong.
This situation was brought to my attention through an online petition started by MADD Western. When I read about what happened, I felt immensely saddened, disgusted, and angry. Not only was Andrea’s life ended far too early, but the parties responsible in the situation – including the guy who hit her, the defense lawyers representing WU, and the university’s student council (USC) who run The Spoke (the on-campus bar where Dejong had been drinking) have the bizarre audacity to lay the blame on Andrea for what happened. This bold accusation is extremely hurtful and unfair, because it wrongly reduces the blame of the responsible individuals.
On Oct. 7, 2015, Andrea stayed at school late to complete an extra credit lab assignment for her astronomy class. That same night, Jared Dejong, a 25-year–old construction engineer student, decided to go out drinking with his friends at The Spoke. After a couple of hours, he left the bar driving to a friend’s house. Unfortunately, as Andrea walked back to her on-campus dorm room, she was hit by Dejong, who was driving under influence and lost control of his car. Although Andrea was rushed to the hospital, there was nothing medical professionals could do to save her, as all oxygen heading to her brain had already been cut off. Two days later, 18-year–old Andrea, who was only a little over a month into her Life Science program at WU, passed away.
Following this tragedy, the Christidis’ took legal action to punish Dejong, and were successful in 2016 when Dejong was declared guilty and given a five–year jail sentence with a ten–year driving ban.
Unfortunately, during this time, both Andrea’s family and her friends suffered a great deal of psychological and emotional pain and stress. Andrea’s father, Christos, endured multiple health problems linked to the loss of his daughter which led to his death at the end of May 2016.
This extended harm experienced by the Christidis’ prompted Andrea’s mother, sister, and grandparents to expand their legal action. In October 2017, they filed a lawsuit against Dejong, WU, and by extension, the USC, regarding compensation for the loss of Andrea and all the related harm caused by her death.
In response, the three defendant parties have taken reprehensible action by not just denying responsibility for Andrea’s death, but also by blaming Andrea herself for the tragedy. Dejong’s claim states that “she was the author of her own misfortune” and this same attitude was initially shared by both the USC and WU lawyers. According to the defendants’ side, a number of factors show Andrea is at fault: she was wearing dark clothes, not wearing her glasses, and was on her cell phone at the time of the incident. She was therefore unable to notice Dejong’s car, and “moved from a position of safety to a position of danger,” suggested WU defense. Dejong has taken this accusation further by claiming that “she was impaired by alcohol, drugs, fatigue, stress or a combination.”
Blaming Andrea is not only hurtful for her family, friends, and peers, but is also a faulty accusation for a several reasons. Firstly, the claim is not justified. The defendants claim Andrea moved into “a position of danger“ when she crossed the street and was hit by Dejong’s car. However, this contradicts with the fact that she was hit from behind when his car hopped the curb. She was likely still on the sidewalk, and if she had started to cross the street, it was Dejong’s responsibility as a driver to watch out for pedestrians.
Additionally, Andrea has been accused of not seeing Dejong’s car because she was distracted by her cell phone; this is also an unfair accusation. If an impaired Dejong had come from behind, it is unlikely that he would have been able to tell that Andrea was on her phone. If he had been driving around 90km/hr. in a 20km/hr. zone, as reported, it is doubtful that anyone, distracted or not, would have been able to notice the car and successfully move out of the way in time. While Andrea may have been tired – she was coming from school – there is no proof that she was impaired by alcohol or drugs, so it is completely inappropriate and irrelevant for the defense to argue this point.
Lastly, placing blame on Andrea attempts to reduce the responsibility of those who caused her death, including Dejong and the staff members at The Spoke. Dejong made the decision to drink and then drive, even though his blood alcohol level was double the legal limit. Staff members at The Spoke that night didn’t notice Dejong’s heavy intoxication and didn’t prevent him from driving, or take action to ensure he get home safely, as is their legal responsibility.
The publication of the defendants’ argument has sparked outrage from the Christidis family and friends, WU students and MADD Western. The latter’s petition obtained 25,000 signatures and encouraged WU to apologize. As a result, WU has recently fired its defence lawyers.
Unfortunately, nothing can change what happened that night. However, moving forward, the defendants can improve the situation by taking the blame, accepting responsibility and realizing that their wrong choices led to Andrea’s death. On March 26, the Christidis’ return to court, and I wish them all the best as they pursue their case. This family has been forever changed by this tragic event, and instead of causing them more pain, it is only right that people learn from this moment. Stop victim–blaming, and work instead to ensure that a similar tragic event never occurs again.