As a man dedicated to preventing overdoses, Thomus Donaghy was in the business of giving troubled people second chances. People like Maximus Roland Hayes — the man who killed him.
By some estimates, Donaghy saved more than a thousand lives as an overdose prevention peer worker in Vancouver, a city gripped by an opioid epidemic.
Hayes was a client of the overdose prevention site at St. Paul’s Hospital where Donaghy was working when he was stabbed after the two had a brief, violent confrontation in July 2020.
Vancouver provincial court Judge Ellen Gordon described Donaghy as a “godlike man who had his own problems, but did everything he could to ensure that people survived.”
Gordon — who sentenced Hayes earlier this fall — said the 24-year-old is racked with guilt; he has pledged himself to sobriety in his victim’s memory.
“I have lots of remorse around what happened. I wish it didn’t happen. I replay it in my mind and it is really messed up,” Hayes told a worker tasked with writing a report on him for the court.
“I want to change my life around so [Donaghy’s] life wasn’t lost for nothing.”
‘That triggered something’
Gordon detailed the circumstances surrounding Donaghy’s death and Hayes’s life when she sentenced Hayes for manslaughter in September. The court posted a transcript this week.
The judge gave Hayes an additional 18 months in jail after allotting him time and a half credit for the 13 months he has already spent in custody.
A heroin addict since he hit the streets of Victoria at the age of 15, Hayes asked his lawyer not to seek bail.
“His concern was that, if he were released, he would go right back to drug use,” Gordon said.
“While it was a tragedy that put him in custody, he decided to try to make the best of that tragedy and attempt to finally, and I say ‘finally’ because he is only 24 years of age, put his drug use behind him.”
According to the ruling, Hayes’s biological mother was 15 or 16 when he was born. She tried to raise him, but he was apprehended at 13 weeks and placed in foster care, suffering “incredible neglect in that home to the point that he must have had so little human interaction that at the age of three he could still barely speak.”
He was adopted by a single mother who wrote a letter to the court that moved Gordon to tears, describing a pivotal moment when he was hazed on arrival at age 15 at a football program in an out-of-catchment school.
“The coach of the football team permitted this young man to be sexually assaulted by older teammates and, in the course of that, I guess so that he could not identify who his assailants were, his shirt was pulled over his head,” Gordon said.
The echo of that incident would reverberate throughout Hayes’s life — ultimately resurfacing in the fight with Donaghy, who got in a scrap with Hayes over money and drugs in the street outside St. Paul’s.
Witnesses claimed Donaghy had the upper hand, when Hayes started to run and Donaghy grabbed his shirt, lifting it over his head.
“That triggered something,” Gordon wrote. “Hayes removed a knife that he had on his person and stabbed Mr. Donaghy once to the left chest.”
‘He was definitely an angel’
In the wake of Donaghy’s death, a new overdose prevention site in Yaletown has been named in his honour.
Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society founder and executive director Sarah Blyth says it has been hard for his co-workers and friends to move on.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s happened and we think about him every day,” Blyth said.
“He was definitely an angel. He definitely went above and beyond. He was one of the only people that would be in the alley at night on his own time, because he was so worried that people would die and he had the ability to help them.”
Gordon said she didn’t know Donaghy’s history, but said she wouldn’t be surprised if he had a similar background to Hayes.
“He was an active drug user, but at the same time, I am told that he was a remarkable human being,” the judge said.
“Quite frankly, the entire case for both the deceased and the accused are heartbreaking.”
‘How we can help each other?’
Blyth was out shopping for Christmas gifts for the overdose prevention site’s clients Monday. She heard the judge was lenient with Hayes, but Blyth has compassion for the young man, who after all, she says, has to live with his actions.
Hayes reflected that reality in the report written for the court, saying “I know the damage I have done. I can’t believe I hurt people the way I did.”
This Christmas, Blyth says Vancouverites should spare a thought for Thomus Donaghy’s example as they walk the city’s streets.
And they might follow the judge’s example in granting mercy to people like Maximus Roland Hayes.
“At the end of the day, anything can happen. Anyone can end up in a terrible situation,” Blyth said.
“We just have to be more understanding and learn to help each other. We’ve seen one catastrophe after another with the heat wave, now it’s freezing out, COVID, the overdose crisis, it’s just endless. So we really need to start to figure out how we can help each other in these terrible situations that we are in.”