The truck driver whose brakes failed on a steep stretch of the Coquihalla in 2016 leading to a multi-vehicle crash causing several serious injuries was found not guilty of criminal negligence in BC Supreme Court on Monday (May 3).
Crown counsel argued that the fact that Roy McCormack’s did not conduct a thorough inspection of his truck and trailer after seeing his brakes smoking and before descending the steepest hill on the most dangerous highway in Canada showed a “wanton and reckless disregard for other people’s lives.”
McCormack went to trial charged with eight counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle after he was involved in the crash multi-vehicle on that clear summer day in August 2016.
But Justice Peter Edelmann said that while McCormack’s actions may have been negligent, the Crown’s case did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions reached the level of criminal negligence.
“There is little question the brakes were not working properly,” Edelmann read as part of his decision, pointing out that an inspector later found five out of six brakes were not functinoal.
“The central issue is whether the accused failed to check the brakes properly and if doing so was a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonably prudent person.”
McCormack was driving a truck pulling a trailer he had picked up at Roger’s Pass. As the only witness for the defence, McCormack told a confusing story with contradictory statements about what time he left, when he arrived in Kamloops, and why he falsified log book entries.
He conceded that his brakes were smoking at some point, but that it was only when he was on a steep section of highway and that when he found a better gear for descent, they stopped. But soon after leaving the Zopkios Brake Check and when he was at or near the Great Bear Snowshed he lost all braking. His truck plowed into several vehicles stopped for construction, injuring eight people, all named in the charges against him.
One of the main contentious items in the case was whether or not McCormack even stopped at the Zopkios Brake Check after seeing his smoking brakes. Truck drivers are required to stop at all brake checks, so Justice Edelmann said that if he had passed Zopkios, McCormack would have been guilty of criminal negligence.
There were three witnesses testifying to this point: McCormack himself who was unreliable and contradictory; a female driver who was passed by McCormack on the highway more than once; and a fellow truck driver named Gary Enns.
Edelmann found the female driver’s testimony to be not reliable enough to conclude for certain that McCormack did not stop at Zopkios.
As for Enns, he made a statement that the court relied upon saying that McCormack’s truck sped past him at Zopkios and it was smoking heavily. He did not testify at the trial because he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Edelmann said because of this disease that affects memory, and having no evidence before him as to the state of the witness when he made his statement, he could not give it enough weight to convict.
“It is simply not clear before me the state of Mr. Enns’ memory at the time of making the statement,” Edelmann said.
“I find the accused not guilty.”
Upon hearing the decision, McCormack thrust his hands into the air in his seat at the back of the courtroom. He stood up, lowered his mask and thanked the judge.
In an email to The Progress the day after the verdict, McCormack said he was happy to be acquitted, adding that there is only so much a driver can do in pre-trip inspections.
“I know this was a terrible accident probably one of the worst things that has ever happened to me in my life,” he wrote in part. “I did what I supposed to do and stopped at that the brake check as required unfortunately it wasn’t enough. I’m very sorry to the people that were injured in this accident I wish it never happened. The judge’s decision has restored my belief in the justice system.”
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