Pamela Tomlinson’s life changed after her father’s killer was charged only $115.
That all changed on Friday, Sept. 24, 2010.
Around 4 p.m., her father William Tomlinson, 54, was driving his motorcycle east on Rainy Creek Road in Clearwater County, Alberta. The secondary highway had speed limit signs posted, reading 90 km/h. According to court documents the road was straight, the visibility was clear and the sun was not a factor for drivers’ eyes.
At the same time Brett Bardenhagen, 26, was driving a pickup, when he saw his old boss in the field on the left side of the highway. As he approached to make the left hand turn into the driveway he saw a motorcyclist coming toward him in the oncoming lane.
“According to the police report Bardenhagen thought he had a chance to make the left hand turn, so he went. It didn’t even occur to him he didn’t have time,” said Pamela Tomlinson.
William Tomlinson must have seen the Dodge Ram truck turning, as there were 115 feet (approximately 35 metres) of skid marks before the crash. When Tomlinson hit the truck his bike stayed up, the foot pedal stuck into the cement. Tomlinson lay on the ground beside his bike.
“A witness said he ran to my dad, he still had a faint pulse. He undid his helmet as he wasn’t breathing. By the time he had undid it, his pulse was gone,” said Pamela.
Pamela had planned to go the gym with her roommate that day but first she wanted to talk to her mom. As the two were talking on the phone, her mother said a police car had driven into the yard. Pamela told her mom to call her back, not thinking much about it.
“When she didn’t call me back I tried her multiple times, the line was busy or she did not pick up. It occurred to me something bad might have happened, but only for a second.”
Pamela finally got a hold of her mom, “Your father was in a motorcycle accident, he’s gone.”
That night Pamela flew from Kelowna to Calgary, where her uncle picked her up.
“We never talked about the sadness. I just wanted details, what had happened, whose fault it was, where he was and what to do,” said Pamela.
Pamela has a hard time remembering the exact details of this day but she does remember the numbness and detachment she felt after realizing her father was never coming home again.
“Getting home that night was a sick reality. My dad’s truck was still in the driveway as he had been out on his bike, it seemed as though there was nothing wrong,” said Pamela.
The next morning she went to the funeral home, then the police station and next the junk yard to clean out her dad’s bike and look at the damage. Then she went to the highway where her dad was killed.
“Seeing the blood stain on the highway that surrounded his body as he lay there. Realizing the five streaks of blood on the road were from his hand as it touched the highway as he was taken away, dead. Spending hours looking up and down the ditch looking for every last piece of my dad and his bike so it wouldn’t be left alone,” said Pamela.
It wasn’t until Sunday morning when Pamela got the phone call asking her to identify her dad’s body.
“I stared into his eyes. They were open. Looking into the holes in his face, his broken nose, the blood still on his face. Watching my dad lie right in front of me unable to understand how he was no longer there,” said Pamela.
After the accident on that Friday Bardenhagen was taken to the hospital and treated for shock.
The sentencing was examined at the Rocky Mountain Court House on Aug.18, 2011, almost a year after William Tomlinson’s death.
“It was exciting in the sense that it was a reason to talk about him, remember him and remember the pain,” said Pamela.
“When I feel sadness I think back to the moment I found out, the moment I identified his body, the moment I looked into his open dead eyes or the moment I saw the truck and the dent in it that killed him. It brings up adrenaline and takes away the pain. In a sense the court date did that.”
Pamela chose not to come back for the court date because she knew it wouldn’t bring her father back. However, Pamela’s mom, Linda, and two sisters Heather, 25, and Diana, 18, did go to the sentencing.
Bardenhagen was charged $115 making an unsafe left hand turn. The fine was the maximum the judge could impose under the Alberta Traffic Safety Act.
Bardenhagen did not respond to a message request through his Facebook site to speak for this article.
“My mom said the worst part of the whole ordeal is his ticket was $115. She said the jeans he was wearing cost more. How is my dad worth less than a pair of jeans?” said Pamela.
This is not the only driving incident Bardenhagen has on his record. On July 16, 2005 he was charged with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and was in and out of court until September 29, 2007. He lost his license for 12 months and had an alcohol interlock device for another six months.
After the sentencing, the Tomlinson family and their friends started a petition to change the dangerous driving law to include unsafe left hand turns resulting in injury and fatality.
“It’s a lot easier to go on if you feel like you have a purpose. The petition gave us that. It brought us back to the pain, took away the pain and gave us a cause,” said Pamela.
The way the law is now, all that could be given to Bardenhagen was a traffic violation similar to a speeding ticket or a fail to stop ticket.
“The mistake this driver made was tragic, the fact it can only be awarded a small fine is even worse it tells people it’s okay to drive dangerously. Accidents don’t happen, negligence does,” said Pamela.
The state of distress which Pamela had to endure has still has not lifted and her sense of self has been lost.
“This crime has changed my life forever. No longer will I be the happy daddy’s girl that has everything she could ever desire. My dad will never sneak me a chocolate bar in my lunch, tell me he is proud of me or give me a hug and tell me to behave every time I leave his arms,” said Pamela.
Pamela still works with Astral Radio Kelowna, now as a videographer, but she says over the last year, she has become a different person — reserved, quiet and anti-social, someone who barely goes home to see her family in Calgary.
Pamela said, “It’s an escape for me living out here [Kelowna] as I do not have to deal with the daily realities of my dad being gone.”
Pamela goes on to say, “I spend every day of my life fighting myself and the truth. I exhaust myself everyday convincing myself dad is here; he is fine.”
“I do this because I cannot begin to imagine my life without my dad. I refuse to admit he is not a part of my life anymore. I cannot think of a time where I do not have the rock that I have spent 22 years leaning against anymore.”