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Man pleads guilty in Montreal hit-and-run that killed 7-year-old Ukrainian refugee


A Quebec man has pleaded guilty in a 2022 hit-and-run in Montreal that killed seven-year-old Mariia Legenkovska, a Ukrainian refugee who had just fled the Russian invasion in Ukraine with her family.

Juan Manuel Becerra Garcia, 46, entered the plea on a charge of failing to stop after an accident Thursday at the Montreal courthouse. The Crown and defence are both seeking a sentence of 12 months to be served at home. A judge will render a decision on June 5.

Legenkovska was walking to school with her older brother and sister in Montreal's St-Ville neighbourhood on Dec. 13, 2022, when she was hit. The family had just arrived in Canada two months prior to her death.

Police said the driver fled the scene after the collision and turned himself in to the authorities hours later.

Garcia, who has kids of his own, offered an apology to the girl's mother in court on Thursday, telling the family that the pain he caused them will stay with him forever. 

"I commit to carry with me the memory of your daughter and to honour her life," the 46-year-old told a packed Montreal courtroom in a speech that was translated into French and Ukrainian. "I hope that with time you can find the strength to forgive." 

Juan Manuel Becerra Garcia waits for an elevator at the Montreal courthouse after pleading guilty on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (CTV News)

The tragedy shocked the province and several mourners gathered at the Saint Sophie Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral for her funeral.

'He's very sorry': defence lawyer

Garcia's guilty plea means that he avoided a trial and will have his licence suspended for four years. His defence lawyer, Éric Coulombe, said Garcia's family's story is not that different from Legenkovska's. His client, a father of two, left Mexico and settled in Canada in search of "a better life" for his family.

"He's devastated. He's very sorry and he's a father. He has kids," Coulombe said to reporters Thursday afternoon.

Crown prosecutor Sylvie Dulude said a 12-month sentence served at home is appropriate in this case when taking into consideration previous rulings for similar cases, that the accused turned himself in, he collaborated with police and had no prior criminal record. Had Garcia stayed at the scene of the crash, Dulude said, he wouldn't have been charged. 

"I do believe him when he said he's having remorse," Dulude said. "It's a big tragedy for every person in that file."

The Crown also told reporters that the little girl's mother had been waiting two years for the accused to plead guilty.

"She was looking for that," she said. "She said she was at peace with this this afternoon."

With files from Noovo Info and The Canadian Press Top Stories

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