A man whose crimes a judge has called “every woman's worst nightmare” is serving a 12-year prison sentence and will be bound by a 10-year long-term supervision order once he’s out.
Michal Popek, 41, has been in prison since April 2016 for sexually assaulting four women who were strangers to him – including two women walking on Burnaby trails in broad daylight in February and March of 2016.
One of those assaults, on a 17-year-old girl, lasted for 40 minutes.
‘Violent and horrific’
The girl had been on her school lunch break, walking on the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail on Feb. 18, 2016, according to court documents.
She couldn’t find her friends in the usual spot and started to retrace her steps.
She had seen Popek a few minutes earlier and saw him again.
The second time, he grabbed her by the waist and threw her to the ground.
“She attempted to punch him, but her attempt was futile,” states a sentencing ruling on the case.
In the second Burnaby attack 17 days later (on March 6, 2016), Popek grabbed a 20-year-old woman from behind and threw her to the ground.
The woman had been walking on the Trans Mountain Trail north of the Meadowood Park area listening to music on her headphones.
“She fought back with her umbrella and tried to scratch him,” states the ruling. “She told him she had cancer. He paused only very briefly and then continued in his attempt to remove her pants.”
Popek ran off when a man walking the trail interrupted his attack.
Police task force
Popek’s attacks happened amid a string of sexual assaults in the city in early 2016, and the Burnaby RCMP – which struck a task force to find the perpetrator – warned women not to walk alone, especially in the area around the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail.
Popek was finally caught in Vancouver on April 19, 2016 after another sexual assault in broad daylight.
He had broken into an 84-year-old woman’s home at about 8:15 a.m. and opened her bedroom door while she was in bed.
When she called out to her son who lived in the basement, Popek left.
Outside, he knocked his final victim, a 54-year-old woman taking pictures of flowers along the street, to the ground and groped her, trying to pull down her pants. She hit him in the face with her camera.
A Good Samaritan ran to help, and Popek ran away, but this time the police caught up to him.
“All of the crimes were serious; all were violent,” said B.C. provincial court Judge Ellen Gordon in a November sentencing ruling. “While sexual assaults of strangers on the street are exceptionally rare, they are every woman's worst nightmare, and there are four women here for whom that nightmare became a reality.”
The Crown prosecutor in the case called for a 12-year prison sentence, minus time served, while Popek’s lawyer said he should get 10 years.
Both agreed he should be bound by a 10-year long-term supervision order after his release.
Gordon sentenced him to 12 years.
“The criminal justice system is not designed to repair the harm caused to victims of crime,” Gordon said before handing down her decision. “Here, all four women suffered serious psychological trauma. It would be ridiculously naïve to believe that that trauma will go away once I impose the sentence I am about to impose.”
She described Popek's crimes as “violent and horrific” but noted his remorse appeared genuine and that he had pleaded guilty, sparing his victims a trial and the need to “relive the horrors they experienced.”
With credit for time served, there are about five years left on Popek's sentence.
After his release, his name will be on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life, he must provide a DNA sample and he will have to inform police every year of where he is living.
Two medical experts in the case concluded Popek is “a low risk to reoffend and is treatable.”