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Driver pleads guilty to lesser charge in death of New Westminster teen

Family want to know why two charges of impaired driving causing death were dropped against Chao Chen, the 45-year-old former Burnaby resident responsible for the crash that killed 19-year-old Olivia Malcom on a Delta highway in 2018.
Olivia Malcom01
Tony, Bridget and Erica Malcom stand with supporters outside Surrey provincial court Monday after a sentencing hearing for 45-year-old Chao Chen, the man responsible for the death of 19-year-old Olivia Malcom in June 2018.
Bridget Malcom’s life “collapsed” on the night of June 2, 2018 – the moment she learned over the phone that first responders had stopped doing CPR on her 19-year-old daughter Olivia on a dark Delta highway.

Olivia, who was born and raised in New Westminster, had been crushed between the family’s Honda Civic and a Jeep Wrangler beside Highway 17A near Ladner Trunk Road at about 10:15 p.m. that night.

She was declared dead at the scene.

“This moment has forever broken me in two,” said her mother in a victim impact statement she read out in Surrey provincial court.

The Burnaby driver responsible for Olivia’s death, 45-year-old Chao Chen, who now lives in Richmond, was in court to plead guilty to dangerous driving causing death on Monday.

 ‘One day at a time’

Victim impact statements made by Olivia’s parents and younger sister painted a picture of a family devastated by the tragedy.

“I’m just trying to survive one day at a time,” said dad Tony Malcom, a longtime New Westminster firefighter, who is off on his second long-term leave trying to cope with the loss of a daughter who had called him her "best friend" and made sure their mats at Oxygen Yoga & Fitness – where she was a manager – were always near each other so they could work out together.

“My role of a mother of two has been forever redefined,” said mom Bridget of the gaping hole left by the death of her firstborn daughter – born on June 10, 1998, after a five-year infertility battle.

“I brought my precious baby girl into this world, and it was my responsibility to be with Olivia when I closed her casket for the final time,” Bridget said, her voice racked with sobs.

Erica Malcom, Olivia’s younger sister, spoke of losing the one person she felt safest with.

“My heart feels physically broken without Liv here,” she said.


On June 2, 2018, Erica was 16 years old and had her first day of work at the Queen’s Park Arena concession.

Her big sister had dropped by to give her some moral support, and the two had plans to go to the Waffle House for brunch the next day.

“We never ended up getting that chance,” Erica said.

Later on June 2, 2018, Olivia, her boyfriend Jake Stott and her friend Téa Canton were on their way back from Jake’s lacrosse game in Ladner, when Téa realized she didn’t have her purse, according to an agreed statement of facts presented in court.

They pulled over into a bus loading area to check if it was in the trunk.

While Olivia and Téa were behind the car, Jake saw Chen’s Jeep in the rear-view mirror enter the dedicated bus lane and drive straight towards them.

Jake honked the car’s horn to warn the Jeep when it was about 50 feet away, but it just kept coming, slamming into the car without the brakes ever having been applied, according to the agreed facts.

Téa, who was standing to one side of the open trunk, was able to jump out of the way and sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but Olivia was pinned and carried along for nearly 16 metres until the vehicles disengaged and she fell to the ground.

New, lesser charges

Chen admitted to having had an open bottle of whiskey with him, which he took from his Jeep before police arrived and threw over a fence, but he said he’d only had one shot of whiskey before the crash and “adamantly” denied having been impaired, according to his lawyer Michael Mines.

Chen was originally charged more than a year after the deadly crash with impaired driving causing death and impaired driving with a blood alcohol level over 80 milligrams causing death – both of which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

But 12 days before he was expected to go to trial on those charges, the Malcom family learned the Crown was proceeding on a new charge of dangerous driving causing death and the other charges had been stayed.

Dangerous driving causing death carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Crown prosecutor Jodie Harris would not comment on what led the Crown to proceed with the new, lesser charge, saying the matter was still before the courts.

“Why did this happen 12 days before the trial?” Tony said to the Record outside the courthouse. “They’re not telling us why. I’m very angry, and we’re not angry people.”


Harris called on provincial court Judge Emmet Duncan to sentence Chen to 12 months in jail and 12 months’ probation, citing his consumption of alcohol as one of the aggravating factors in the case.

She also called for a five-year driving ban.

As a condition of his probation, Harris called for a ban on Chen contacting the Malcom family, Jake Stott and Téa Canton.

Both Bridget and Tony Malcom made it clear in their victim impact statements that they never wanted to hear from Chen again.

He had sent them an apology letter some months after the accident that the Malcoms did not accept, according to Tony.

Mines, meanwhile, called for a 90-day jail sentence to be served on weekends and a two-year term of probation.

He urged Duncan to note Chen’s immediate and genuine remorse after the crash.

Witnesses at the scene reported seeing Chen apologizing, crying, screaming, pulling up grass, banging his head against a telephone post and lying on the ground in the fetal position, according to the agreed facts.

Mines further argued there was no evidence his client was speeding, distracted or driving erratically – or that he had more than one shot of whiskey before the crash.

He said Chen had told him he had pulled into the bus lane to avoid a large transport truck – and that he hadn’t expected a car to be parked in the restricted lane because only buses are allowed to use it.

Mines noted his client didn’t have a prior criminal record, but Harris pointed out Chen had some related driving charges, including a 90-day driving prohibition that expired just six months before the crash.

He had also been caught driving while prohibited after the accident that killed Olivia.

Duncan is expected to deliver his sentence in later February or earlier March.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor

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