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'My heart goes out to Brenda' - dump-truck driver says outside court
The driver of a dump truck involved in the deadly head-on collision that killed South Surrey’s Jim Neiss nearly three years ago did not give his side of the story during his trial at Surrey Provincial Court.
Outside court Tuesday, Glen Edward Theriault told Peace Arch News that his silence was on the advice of his lawyer.
Noting repeatedly that he wasn’t supposed to comment, Theriault shared a few thoughts nonetheless, including one directed at Neiss’s wife, Brenda Michie.
“My heart goes out to Brenda,” he said, as he stood amongst supporters during a break from the proceedings.
Theriault is charged with dangerous driving causing death in connection with the Jan. 18, 2011 crash. It occurred just after 5:30 a.m. in the 19800-block of 16 Avenue, when Theriault’s dump truck crossed a double-yellow line to pass another vehicle. The collision compressed the front section of Neiss’s Ford Explorer into less than half its width.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Theriault’s lawyer, Rishi Gill, told Judge Paul Dohm that prosecutors had failed to prove Theriault’s driving was criminal in nature.
“Mr. Theriault was the driver of the truck, his driving alone caused the death of the victim,” Gill conceded. “There is a big dispute over whether (his) driving pattern (further east, between Abbotsford and Campbell Valley Park) was dangerous or negligent. We say the evidence alone cannot support that.”
Neiss, 59, had been on his way to work as a Langley school-bus driver when the crash occurred.
The court heard that Theriault was Delta-bound in a Sterling dump truck, and running behind schedule.
Witnesses testified to seeing the dump truck “barrelling” by cars as it headed west, passing at least one other vehicle before making the fatal manoeuvre.
Leland Weigel – a Qualicum Beach resident – told the court Tuesday that he was westbound on 16 Avenue when he noticed a dump truck approaching from behind him “at a good clip.”
“Around 237 (Street), it just passed me, zip, flying in excess of 80 kilometres (an hour) I was doing. It went into the oncoming lane and across a double-yellow line.”
Weigel estimated the truck was travelling faster than 90 km/h, and said he saw it pass other vehicles ahead of him, also across double-yellow lines.
“He just kept on going, just flying. In a real big hurry,” Weigel said.
At the intersection of 200 Street, the dump truck pulled into the left-turn bay as if to head south, but instead drove straight through, Weigel said.
He became emotional when describing the scene he came across shortly after, as he drove down the hill just west of the intersection.
“I looked to my left and I saw the dump truck. His front bumper was pushed all the way to the back of the (Explorer’s) seat. He had his headlights on, I could see him in the truck. I saw steam and everything coming up.
“I just did the sign of the cross. There was nothing left of that truck. Sorry.”
In cross-examination, Gill suggested Weigel’s memory of the events had changed over time. He pointed to differences in Weigel’s statement to police five days after the crash compared to that provided to Crown on Monday. They included the type of vehicle Weigel himself had been driving on the day of the crash, where along 16 Avenue the dump truck had passed him, the type of day it was and how many vehicles he saw ahead of him – differences Weigel said could be the result of a clerical error, misinterpretation of information he provided or his own mistake.
Gill also asked Weigel why he didn’t stay at the scene to speak to police right away.
“When I stopped and viewed what I seen, I had to leave,” Weigel said. “I called later. I just couldn’t stay there.”
Outside court, Theriault said Weigel had “exaggerated lots” in his version of events.
“There’s lots of detail that doesn’t come out,” he told PAN, pledging to tell his story after a verdict has been rendered.
In closing arguments for the Crown, prosecutor Winston Sayson said Theriault’s pattern of driving – including speeding, crossing double-yellow lines and passing – was “a purposeful, deliberate action.”
Pointing to evidence that Theriault told an officer his decision to cross the double-yellow line was “a bad, three-second mistake,” Sayson said the words “reveal his intention.”
“The mere act of the accused going into the opposite lane… alone is enough to establish dangerous driving.”
Gill disagreed, pointing to expert testimony that anyone without “overly familiar” perspective of that road would think at that time of the day, in those conditions, it was straight and flat west of 200 Street.
(Gill later asked to recall the witness in order to clarify the evidence and ensure the answer wouldn’t be disregarded by the court. In making the request, he acknowledged his own error in wording the question poorly, and Dohm conceded the move was necessary to ensure fairness of the proceedings.)
Gill also argued that it wasn’t proven beyond a doubt that the dump truck seen speeding and passing between Abbotsford and Campbell Valley Park was indeed Theriault’s. As well, one witness “provided testimony consistent with an unremarkable driving pattern,” he said.
“The Crown is in no way able to reasonably rely on the pattern of driving prior to the valley,” Gill said.
And, based on evidence regarding the typical driving pattern of motorists along that stretch of road, “there was nothing unusual about Mr. Theriault’s driving.”
“It was absolutely clear that that road was not driven by 90-year-old retirees in Model-T Fords going… below the speed limit,” Gill said.
Michie, referring to Weigel’s description of the crash scene, told PAN Tuesday’s proceedings were the most difficult for her so far.
“This guy today, that was the most upset I’ve been,” she said.
The proceedings are to resume on Oct. 7.