Crown prosecutor Kelly Johnston in his final submissions Friday said the Surrey woman accused of criminal negligence causing death in the 2017 traffic crash that killed Cloverdale teen Travis Selje managed to swerve in and out of traffic before hitting the boy’s car, despite claiming she had an epileptic seizure that caused the collision.
Rituraj Kaur Grewal, 26, had been driving her father’s Cadillac at age 22 when it slammed into Selje’s Honda Prelude at high speed on May 3, 2017 at the intersection of 64th Avenue and 176th Street in Cloverdale, fatally injuring the 17-year-old boy. He died in hospital two days later. An RCMP forensic expert testified during the trial, at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, that the Cadillac was doing 142 km/h in a 60 km/h zone just prior to hitting Selje’s car.
“The facts in this case show that Miss Grewal was driving in an aggressive and unsafe manner for a relatively lengthy period of time and distance,” Johnston told Justice Jeanne Watchuk. Her driving, he said, showed a level of consciousness. “It shows she was able to respond to her environment, in some fashion. She changed lanes several times in what was clearly an attempt to move around slower vehicles.”
“She was able to successfully execute driving that would have required steering input, acceleration and deceleration,” he noted. “The Crown’s submission is this driving pattern is not in any way consistent with having a generalized convulsive status.”
Grewal testified she has no recollection of the crash and believes she had an epileptic seizure that caused the collision. Dr. Gurwant Singh, a Surrey neurologist, diagnosed Grewal with epilepsy in 2019, two years after the crash. Dr. Yahya Aghakhani, director of Vancouver General Hospital’s epilepsy program also testified for the defence that Grewal’s behaviour as described by a couple of witnesses immediately after the fatal crash was consistent with an epileptic seizure but he could not confirm she had one while she was driving.
During his final submissions Wednesday, defence lawyer Don Muldoon told Watchuk the evidence is compelling that an epileptic seizure caused the fatal crash.
But on Friday the Crown argued that either Grewal did not have a seizure and her driving was intentional throughout, or that her vehicle struck Selje’s vehicle because she didn’t want to stop or slow down.
“The second explanation is that she was driving dangerously and deliberately and at excessive speed, but consciously and then in the seconds immediately prior to the collision at 176th Street, suddenly had a generalized convulsive seizure,” Johnston said. But if that’s true, he added, she’d already been driving in a way that was “objectively wanton and reckless.”
Johnston said the defence would have the court believe she suffered a progression of different types of seizures, such that at the time when witnesses observed her driving she was conscious “but with some sort of impaired awareness,” but by the time she got to 176th Street, where the crash happened, she had become unconscious and unable to control the vehicle.
“She very clearly had some form of control over that vehicle,” Johnston argued. “If you consider the evidence of Miss Grewal and her neurologists, the defence fails on a balance of probabilities.”
Johnston said the actus reus – a Latin term describing a wrongful deed that makes up for the physical act of a crime – concerning both criminal negligence charges and her leaving the scene of an accident have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The court heard during the trial Grewal crashed into another car but kept going until she hit Selje’s car further on down the road. For that she is also charged with failing to remain at the scene of a collision, as well as criminal negligence causing bodily harm in the case of another driver, Gary Mordecai.
Johnston noted that while the defence claims Grewal was having a seizure, the Crown’s problem is that it can’t prove she wasn’t. “We can’t prove in every driving case that they weren’t having a seizure,” he pointed out. “That would be impossible.”
“Anyone can say, ‘I’m alone in the vehicle, I was having a seizure, and prove otherwise,’” the prosecutor noted. “That’s not possible.”
“We have what appears to be deliberate driving. That deliberateness is the mens rea. It’s showing she is trying to maneuver around cars to go faster. That’s the mens rea in this case.”
Mens rea is another Latin term that has to do with a person’s intention to commit a crime, or knowledge that their actions or lack thereof would result in a crime being committed.
“In order to rebut that, in order to provide an explanation, the explanation I’ve been provided is that there is this progression. The problem is, we don’t have evidence of that; it’s impossible to get evidence of that because of the circumstances, and I think the court needs to be wary because it – and again I’m not disparaging the doctors I’m sure that this happens – but we have to be wary when it fits so neatly into the explanation,” Johnston told the court.
The next court date set for this case is March 11, to fix a date for when Watchuk will deliver her verdict. She said Friday that will likely be toward the end of April.