When first responders arrived at the scene of a serious road traffic accident, they could see the male driver was trapped in the vehicle, which had crashed into a street light. Straight away, paramedics and firefighters scrambled to rescue him, cutting through the SUV’s metal frame.
The driver, who was later identified as Jan Poepl, was unconscious and unable to explain how the crash had happened. But as police walked around the scene to determine the exact chain of events they found a woman, who was also unconscious, lying in a ditch.
She was Nicole Porciello, also known as Nicole Hasselmann. She had been a passenger in the car and was thrown 30ft when it crashed.
But as medics assessed her injuries, they found something deeply disturbing. Nicole, 34, had injuries from the accident but she also had 47 stab wounds.
When police began to investigate and piece together the sequence of events leading up to the crash on the Barnet Highway in Vancouver on 16 November 2018, what they would uncover proved to be chilling.
Nicole and Poepl had dated on and off for seven years. Poepl worked in real estate, while Nicole was a student support worker at Templeton Secondary School in Vancouver. She was also a mum to a boy aged 10.
Everyone would comment about how committed Nicole was to her students and how she always saw the best in every situation – and in people. This could explain why she had continued to try to make the relationship work with Poepl, despite his controlling and jealous nature.
Poepl had struggled with drug addictions and had been physically abusive towards Nicole. He was particularly jealous of men but he also disapproved of Nicole’s female friends – or anyone who she got close to.
The couple would break up and get back together, with Nicole agreeing to give him another chance.
She was fearful of him and it became apparent to others that Poepl had some form of control over her and this possessive streak was only getting stronger.
In November 2018, nine days before the horrific crash, they had split up again. Nicole had started seeing someone else and even though that had ended, it had fuelled Poepl’s jealousy again. On the evening of 16 November, Poepl picked Nicole up in a rental vehicle while her son was at hockey practice. But something went terribly wrong and the estranged couple are thought to have got into an argument.
With Nicole in the passenger seat, Poepl pulled out two kitchen knives and stabbed her 47 times. Then, as she was slowly bleeding to death, instead of calling 911 Poepl took off his bloody jacket, got out his mobile phone and recorded a video of the two of them.
The footage, which was later shown in court, was deeply upsetting. Nicole was covered in blood and fighting for breath. In a desperate attempt to save her life, she could be heard telling Jan that she loved him.
But rather than helping Nicole, Poepl showed no sign of remorse. He just kept on recording and told her that the attack was her fault.
“You just took, took, took from me,” he said, capturing it all on his phone. “Disrespected me for months and years.”
Poepl drove back to his home and left Nicole bleeding to death in the car for two hours while he sent emails, including his work resignation, and paid some bills. He even did some online shopping for a new TV and dishwasher.
Then he got back into the SUV and drove Nicole, who was still alive, to the Barnet Highway. It is thought that he intended to stage the car crash and make it look like Nicole had died as a result of the accident.
He gathered speed, then slammed his foot on the accelerator and smashed into a street light. Nicole, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was catapulted from the car by the impact.
Although Poepl and Nicole were both taken to hospital alive, only Poepl survived. Nicole died as a result of the multiple stab wounds and the injuries caused by the crash.
Poepl was arrested on 29 November 2018 and later charged with second-degree murder. Meanwhile, Nicole’s devastated family started a social media campaign, speaking out about the heartache they had all suffered over the loss of a much-loved daughter, sister, friend and mother to a young son.
Family and friends described Nicole as a “bright candle” that was blown out but one that would “forever shine” in their hearts. “She brought joy, happiness and positive enlightenment to everyone she encountered. She had nothing but kindness and unconditional love for family and friends,” one of the touching tributes read.
They were, however, troubled by the fact that the second-degree murder charge would mean that although Poepl would automatically get a life sentence, he could be eligible for parole after serving just 10 years.
In February this year, Poepl pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The defence team made a case for parole after serving 10 years, while the prosecution argued for a minimum of 15 years.
At a sentencing hearing in March, Poepl made a statement to the court, saying, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time to tell you how sorry I am.”
His lawyer shared letters which had been sent by a chaplain and a life skills facilitator at the prison facility where Poepl was on remand, which suggested his client was making efforts at rehabilitation. But Nicole’s family argued that this alleged “regret and remorse” wasn’t credible and that Poepl had failed to show any genuine emotion.
When the disturbing video he had shot was played in court, many family members chose not to watch as Nicole fought for her life and tried to save herself. In victim impact statements, Nicole’s father Joe told Poepl, “You destroyed my family. Our hearts are broken. You took my baby and I will never be whole again.”
And Nicole’s best friend Ashley Engelson said to Poepl, “I wish she’d never met you. She would still be here.”
The judge referred to Poepl’s actions as being “callous, cruel and self-absorbed”, adding that the video Poepl had made showed “an astonishing lack of remorse” for the woman he claimed to love.
The judge also spoke about a heartbreaking letter written by Nicole’s son expressing his grief and admitted that she found it difficult to read.
On 13 April, Poepl was given a life sentence and told he must serve a minimum of 15 years before being eligible for parole.
Outside court, where Nicole’s family had gathered, it was clear that this was not seen as a severe enough sentence for a man who had killed a young woman and mother in such a brutal manner.
“Justice doesn’t exist in this country,” Joe told waiting reporters.