Paul Prestbakmo was a charming, outgoing, charismatic man who was “very quick to make everyone laugh” – but also didn’t hesitate to act as a protector for the vulnerable in the community.
That’s how his younger sister Angela remembered the South Surrey resident in a victim impact statement read Wednesday afternoon (June 8) in Surrey Provincial Court.
Angela’s recollections were among testimony delivered in the opening day of the sentencing hearings for two teens – whose identities cannot be divulged – found guilty of second degree murder in the stabbing death of Prestbakmo in August, 2019.
The court also heard victim impact statements from Prestbakmo’s father, his sister Elizabeth, and brother Steve during the day.
The hearings, which will also include submissions from psychologists called by the teens’ lawyers, are expected to run into next week, concluding on June 17.
The verdict was delivered in May of 2021 following the trial of the pair, aged 15 and 16 years old at the time of the crime.
The 45-year-old First Nations man, who worked as a mechanic and was well known and liked in the community, died in a parking lot at 18 Avenue and 152 Street just before 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2019.
Evidence revealed that he had been stabbed 42 times over the course of 26 seconds, shortly after he had stepped out of his residence to take out some garbage and have a cigarette.
The convicted youths had been uninvited guests to a nearby house party, and their chance encounter with Prestbakmo in the parking lot took place the second time they had roamed the streets during the early hours of that morning.
In his verdict, Judge Robert Hamilton said the large number of wounds inflicted on Prestbakmo during the altercation, combined with other factors – including that the teens had left the house party armed with knives – showed they set out with “a lethal intent to kill.”
In reaching his verdict, Hamilton considered the evidence of 27 witnesses – among them some who were as young as 12 at the time of the killing.
Hamilton, however, reached a not-guilty verdict with regards to charges of aggravated assault that were laid against the same two youths in connection with injuries suffered by a White Rock senior, allegedly during an earlier excursion into the streets in the hours prior to Prestbakmo’s death.
Angela told Peace Arch News that her family has already submitted an argument to the court that the two youths should be sentenced as adults – which is possible, at a judge’s discretion, for youths older than 14 convicted of serious crimes.
If sentenced as juveniles under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the maximum the pair could receive for second-degree murder is seven years (four of those in custody; the balance in the community, with conditions and supervision).
Sentenced as an adult, the same conviction would mean life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
In her statement, Angela said coming to terms with her brother’s death is still hard for the family.
“Watching my family and some of our family’s closest friends suffer because of Paul’s death just crushes me,” she said.
“There is still a lot of anger. Our children are angry that they lost their uncle, my siblings are angry because they lost their brother, my father is angry because he lost his son and Paul’s friends are angry that they lost such a great friend.”
She also recalled a man known for his humour and spontaneity, even as a child; a keen participant in the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Sea Scouts, and a lover of walking, hiking, biking and swimming.
“Paul was a hands-on learner like me, and when dad got him into cars it didn’t surprise any of us that he worked full time at a shop – he loved fixing cars and was very talented at it,” she said, adding that because his memories for names was bad he’d come up with nicknames for everyone he encountered.
“There is probably not one person in White Rock who doesn’t have a nickname from Paul,” she said.
Also among memories of her big brother was that he was protective of his sisters and the rest of his family and friends – and also had a brotherly approach to the community as a whole.
“He was heroic. He had the ‘act first, ask questions later’ kind of thinking. He was the care-taker,” she said.
A young woman came to his funeral with her mother, she recalled, and shared that Prestbakmo would sometimes encounter her out on the streets late at night and tell her to go home because her mother was “probably really worried about her.”
“She said that Paul would always stay with her whenever he’d run into her during those times when she would not want to go home, to make sure no one took advantage of her vulnerable state – she said she always felt safe when Paul was around,” she said.
“I’m not surprised that Paul was out late on the night he was killed because that (was) just like him to walk around to make sure his community was safe.”
– with files from Tracy Holmes