MARTIN: Grieving father’s words poignant reminder of consequences


‘When I reached my destination the image of our lifeless daughter completely shattered me,’ wrote Helen Villalta-Vuong’s father, Carlos Villalta

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It’s absolutely terrifying how a moment of anger, or stupidity, can quickly turn tragic.

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And those moments are often compounded by the use of alcohol or drugs, which can further exasperate an already volatile situation.

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That seems to be what happened on the afternoon of May 31, 2022, when in a flash an apparent argument involving a young Calgary couple turned deadly.

And left to mourn in the wake of Helen Villalta-Vuong’s death are a community of family and friends left to wonder how a vibrant life could be snuffed so quickly, especially the young woman’s still-devastated parents.

Steven Nathaniel Watkins began serving a three-year prison term Tuesday after a judge accepted a joint Crown and defence submission for such a punishment on a charge of impaired driving causing Villalta-Vuong’s death.

Watkins was intoxicated on a cocktail of prescription drugs he had taken earlier that day in an apparently failed suicide attempt when he went to pick up his girlfriend at the end of her shift at the downtown Core Shopping Centre.

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A witness reported them having a heated argument in Watkins’ Kia Soul before he suddenly reversed in a 180-degree arc. The force of the manoeuvre threw Villalta-Vuong from the vehicle which at the same time rolled over her, taking her life.

The three-year sentence Watkins was handed will do little to heal the anger and hurt the woman’s parents, Carlos Villalta and Ngoc Vuong, will have to endure for the rest of their lives.

Their pain was eloquently detailed in a victim-impact statement Villalta presented to the court on behalf of himself and his wife.

His words poignantly detailed the excruciating agony, perhaps the worst a person can suffer, a parent who loses a child must endure.

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“I am writing to you today to share the profound impact of an incident that remains painfully fresh in my family’s heart and will remain in our lives forever,” Villalta wrote, in the statement read in court by Crown prosecutor Greg Whiteside.

Villalta detailed the police phone call he received “that continues to haunt my memory” that his daughter had been in an accident and was hospitalized.

As he raced to Foothills Medical Centre he hoped what happened was a minor incident, only to learn upon arrival of the gravity of the situation.

In the emergency room he was told his daughter was in intensive care and he was directed to another location.

There he was told to call the ICU “and was met with a response that forever altered our lives.

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“The lady on the other end uttered the most devastating words: ‘I’m sorry, your daughter is dead.’ The weight of that sentence crushed me, leaving me bereft of words. It was as though the world around me had collapsed, leaving me utterly speechless.”

With tears streaming down his cheeks, Villalta walked towards where he would find his daughter’s lifeless body, while breaking the news to her mother, who had remained at home because she was ill.

“When I reached my destination the image of our lifeless daughter completely shattered me,” he wrote.

“I could barely stand. My balance was gone. The world as I knew it disintegrated.”

Not surprisingly, both Vuong and Villalta feel intense anger towards the man who took their daughter’s life; someone she had loved.

And in a tragic twist played out far too often in our criminal justice system, their sentence, a life without their precious daughter, will last far longer than the period her convicted killer will have to serve behind bars.

That’s not a fault of the system, just the reality of crime and punishment.

One can only hope that Watkins’ punishment, and more importantly Villalta’s words, will have an impact on someone else’s future decision to act so irrationally.

X: @KMartinCourts

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