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Victoria man sentenced in 2011 assault that led to death

Oct 24 2012

A Victoria man has been sentenced to three years in prison for committing an unprovoked, prolonged assault that led to the death of Gilles Alain Thibodeau in March 2011.

Jason Van Winkle, 37, was originally charged with the second-degree murder of Thibodeau, 41. In July, Van Winkle pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Laura Gerow sentenced Van Winkle to 3 1 /2 years in prison. Gerow gave Van Winkle credit for the 6 1 /2 months he spent in pre-trial custody. Van Winkle must spend another two years and 11 months in prison.

Before sentencing, and with his mother looking on from the public gallery, Van Winkle stood and apologized to Thibodeau's family.

"It's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life," Van Winkle said. "I want to apologize and say I'm sorry."

Thibodeau's family was not present in the court room. He is survived by his elderly parents, who live in eastern Canada, and a sister in Portland, Oregon.

In an email to the court, his sister remembered Thi-bodeau as a smart and witty man who always made his family laugh.

"He was very much loved by his family who tried to support and help him with his addiction issues," she wrote. "His loss will be felt forever."

Prosecutor Dale Marshall told the court that in the early morning of March 16, 2011, Victoria police were called to a disturbance at the former Traveller's Inn on Rock Bay Avenue. They found five people in the room, including Thibodeau, who was blue, pale and not breathing, Marshall said.

Police and paramedics performed CPR and Thi-bodeau was taken to Victoria General Hospital with a faint pulse. He was put on life support but died on March 22, 2011.

Court heard that on March 15, 2011, Van Winkle hired Thibodeau to help him move a family from Duncan to Victoria. Thi-bodeau and two others were sent to Duncan. They started drinking, ran out of gas and abandoned the truck. Van Winkle had to retrieve his truck and finish the job himself.

That evening, Van Winkle, Thibodeau and three others were partying in the hotel room. Van Winkle, who had consumed cocaine, alcohol and heroin, accused Thibodeau of losing the key to his home, where he lived with his mother and daughter.

Thibodeau, who was smoking crack cocaine and drinking, ignored Van Winkle, Marshall said.

Eventually, Van Winkle said, "The only way I am going to get you to tell me the truth is to beat you up."

Van Winkle kicked Thi-bodeau in the stomach, Marshall said. Thibodeau threw a punch, but missed. Then Van Winkle knocked Thibodeau down and sat on him. He hit Thibodeau in the face six times, asking, "Where's my key? Where's my key?"

When Van Winkle got up, he realized that Thibodeau was in distress and started CPR, Marshall said.

The pathologist found cause of death was lack of oxygen to the brain due to acute cocaine and ethanol intoxication with physical restraint.

Thibodeau's injuries were minor and not thought to contribute to his death, the pathology report said.

However, the pathologist noted, circumstances described by witnesses - the application of a headlock and kneeling on the person followed by cardiac arrest - suggest the possibility of asphyxia due to neck or chest compression.

Van Winkle's defence lawyer, Tom Morino, said his client's guilty plea was sincere and made out of a sense of remorse.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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