Eileen Kleinfelder loved her job as a process server, delivering legal documents to people involved in court cases.
She especially liked the long drives to places such as Whistler, Squamish and Princeton.
Her fiery personality ensured that she could withstand the ire of people not too pleased to see her. She had even been chased by people driving backhoes and others with guns, and sometimes found herself locked in on their properties.
But Eileen, a Chilliwack resident, enjoyed the thrill and couldn’t imagine herself retiring.
She was on the way to meet up with her daughter-in-law Maureen – who was working for her – to deliver some of those documents on Oct. 15, 2012, when tragedy struck.
Eileen, 67, was travelling north on the Highway 11 bypass (Sumas Way) in Abbotsford, just south of Old Clayburn Road, when a southbound van crossed the centre lane and three lanes of traffic, striking her head-on in her brand new Fiat 500 compact car.
She was pronounced dead not long after, and it was three years before anyone was charged in connection with the crash.
More than six years after they lost Eileen, her family is still waiting for the case to conclude – and they’re tired of the delays.
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It’s Jan. 21, 2019 in room 103 of the Abbotsford courthouse, and Kleinfelder’s granddaughter, Natasha Weiss, and her mom, Maureen Kleinfelder – married to Eileen’s only child, son Donald – have again travelled for the proceedings.
Natasha lives in Deroche near Mission, but Maureen, who used to reside in Yarrow, now lives in Barriere, a drive of three or four hours depending on which route she takes.
The pair come to every appearance, Maureen says, “just to show him that we’re not letting up.”
The “him” they are referring to is the man charged in the case, Michael Larocque, 48.
Larocque has prior convictions for driving while prohibited, fraud, robbery, breaching his conditions, uttering threats and assault. He was also issued a ticket for excessive speeding in 2011 and one for driving without a licence in 2017.
He was charged in October 2015 with criminal negligence causing death in relation to the collision involving Eileen.
Larocque pleaded guilty in March 2018 to the lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death on what was supposed to be the first day of his trial.
But even getting to that point was an excruciating process laden with numerous delays and no-shows by Larocque.
Natasha said there have been 13 times that Larocque – who now lives on Vancouver Island – didn’t show up for a scheduled appearance, resulting in new court dates being set to issue a warrant for his arrest. But he’d show up the next time, and the warrant application would be withdrawn.
When he finally pleaded guilty, a sentencing hearing took place in which both lawyers presented their case, and Natasha and Eileen read their victim impact statements.
Maureen said it was during those proceedings that Larocque turned to them, crying and saying he was sorry.
All that was left to do was for the judge to give her ruling on Larocque’s sentence a few weeks later. But, during that appearance, Larocque announced that he wanted to reverse his guilty plea, and fired his lawyer.
More time passed, and Larocque found another lawyer. This time, that lawyer removed himself from the case after learning that the matter had gone as far as a guilty plea and that Larocque wanted to change it.
Larocque now has a third lawyer in place, and it was she who addressed the judge on Jan. 21. She announced that they would be putting forth an application to have Larocque’s guilty plea dismissed.
If the judge accepts it, a date will be set for trial. If she rejects it, a date for sentencing will be scheduled.
That hearing on the application is set to take place this Friday, Feb. 15.
Natasha and Maureen said they are now at the point that they don’t expect anything to happen when they come to court, and they face the ongoing anxiety of not knowing when it will end.
“Every time we have to keep coming back here, it’s just another ripping off [of] the Band-Aid – ripping the wound open every time,” Natasha said.
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Eileen was “a crazy lady and the biggest-heartest person you could ever meet,” Maureen says fondly.
Eileen raised her son as a single parent after her boyfriend left her when she got pregnant. She never married.
“You couldn’t trap that woman. She said, ‘Pleasing a man is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall,’ ” Natasha laughs.
Although she never had more children of her own, she took in kids – one from an ex-boyfriend, another from a friend – who became like her own.
She also adored being a great-grandparent to Natasha’s son, now 10, who called her “GG.”
Natasha said her grandmother always spoke her mind – “She had no filter” – and was a strong woman who had endured two back surgeries and had plastic pins in her back and neck.
Although she was in constant pain, she never showed it, Natasha said.
Eileen, who grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, injured her back while working as a care aide at a nursing home when she first moved to B.C.
She also owned horses at the Hastings Park racetrack in the 1970s, and much of her money went towards their care and training.
“Nobody could ever tell her, ‘Eileen, you need to get rid of these horses. They’re costing you too much money.’ (She’d say), ‘No, they’re not. They’re going to all be winners.’ ”
Eileen did eventually sell the horses, and turned to process-serving for a lawyer before starting her own business in 1990.
She had just bought a house in Chilliwack – after years of renting – not long before the crash.
“She was proud, and she was excited about it,” Natasha said.
She said because of Eileen’s work, she was well-known by many lawyers in the Fraser Valley. A couple of law offices shut down for the day when they received word of her death, and more than 200 people turned out for her celebration of life.
“That’s just how close she was to people. She’d kind of do that – she’d sneak into your life,” Natasha said.
She and her mom say that Eileen would have no patience for the court delays if the situation involved one of her loved ones.
“She would probably be in contempt, I can tell you that. The judge would probably be putting her in jail for voicing her opinion. She probably wouldn’t have anything nice to say,” Natasha said.