A serial carjacker who racked up more than 150 convictions across six Toronto police divisions is facing an unprecedented life sentence after he plowed a stolen van into a woman's car, killing her and injuring five others during a 2010 police chase.
Robert Clifford Smith, 43, has been described by police as a "one-man crime wave," and was behind the wheel of the stolen Dodge Caravan that T-boned 26-year-old Sarah Attayee's Honda in February 2010. The province's Special Investigations Unit said that Smith ran a red light as police cruisers tailed him in Scarborough.
Attayee died later in hospital. Five other female passengers in her Honda were hurt.
Smith was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm.
The Crown said Wednesday it is seeking a life sentence — rare for those charges. But police say Smith's numerous prior convictions make him a dangerous career criminal.
One of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the fatal crash two years ago said the tragedy is one he still can't shake.
Questions about danger of police chase
"There's cases that you'll never forget, and this was one of them," said Det.-Const. Richard MacKinnon. "It was a terrible thing that I'll never be able to forget, but it's part of the job."
Attayee's friends and family remain consumed by grief over the Valentine's Day 2010 accident.
"I just remember getting a phone call that she was in an accident and I needed to come to the hospital right away because the doctor said she wouldn't make it," said Atefa Osmani, one of the victim's best friends. "I didn't believe it."
Sara Kasuji wants nothing short of life imprisonment for the man she blames for Attayee's death.
"I hope he has life in prison and never gets out, because he's been out before and he's done it again," she said.
Osmani still has questions about that night and wonders if it could have ended differently.
"I don't understand why the police would go this far," she said. "Why didn't they know to call it off? To say, 'You know what, it's getting too dangerous. Just let it go.'"
The SIU investigated the circumstances of the chase leading up to the crash and concluded in May 2010 that police did nothing wrong.
The van Smith was driving was reportedly speeding at 100 km/h upon impact. Officers spotted the van and pursued it because it matched the description of a vehicle near the scene of a break-in that evening.
SIU director Ian Scott said in a news release that "in hindsight it may have been preferable to have called the pursuit off due to Mr. Smith's reckless driving," but that he nevertheless felt the officer giving chase "did at the time attempt to balance the public safety interests with the need to apprehend Mr. Smith."
The defence has argued that police treated Smith roughly during his arrest, injuring his hip, and that the allegations of police brutality should be a mitigating factor in the sentencing. The judge will continue to hear evidence about the alleged use of excessive force, and a sentence is expected Thursday or early next week.