Pembroke driver convicted in death of former regimental sergeant major, Ernie Hall
Photo Courtesy of DND Chief Warrant Officer Ernie Hall, former RSM of 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, died on Jan. 12, 2015 after being struck by a vehicle while leaving a Lumber Kings game in Pembroke. Hall served the Canadian Forces for 39 years before his retirement in 2013.
A judge convicted a Pembroke man in the death of a retired soldier, ruling that his SUV should have slowed down upon seeing pedestrians empty into a downtown street after a hockey game.
Handing down a guilty verdict in a dangerous driving trial Thursday, Justice Martin James concluded that Martial Laverdure’s vehicle was driving too fast when it collided with Ernie Hall on Lake Street just outside the Pembroke Memorial Centre (PMC) on the night of Jan. 11, 2015 fatally injuring the former regimental sergeant major.
Handing down his decision in an Ontario superior court, Justice James said the Crown had established through eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence that Laverdure’s driving “departed markedly from the standard of care of a reasonable person” as set out in the Criminal Code.
Leaving the arena at the end of a Lumber Kings game, Hall was walking to his parked Ford pick-up truck when a Toyota RAV 4 driven by Laverdure struck and two other pedestrians along Lake Street. Justice James accepted that the 39-year-old was travelling at a speed of 60 kilometres an hour when he pulled away from the Frank Nighbor intersection but hit the brakes 32 metres before his SUV initially hit Ken Brown and then Hall, who died the following day in an Ottawa hospital.
“It appears to me that Mr. Laverdure was travelling too fast to avoid a collision with whatever obstacle was in his path,” said Justice James. “Unfortunately, in this case, the obstacles were two pedestrians.”
Summarizing his decision for the court, the judge said the evidence was supported by eyewitnesses who saw Laverdure’s SUV speeding along Lake Street in the moments before the fatal collision. He put weight on Vicki Hoffman’s account that she heard a car speeding up in the vicinity of Nelson Street and Elizabeth Street North that night before seeing a RAV 4 drive by at a high rate of speed, fast enough to prompt her to call 911.
He also found Crown witness Donna Cotnam credible as she had recounted seeing the SUV going so fast she yelled to the driver to slow down. While he agreed with defence assertions that there were significant variations in witness’ accounts on certain issues of the case, there was generally agreement that Laverdure’s vehicle was going too fast.
Justice James also accepted the forensic evidence compiled and analyzed at the scene by Constable Luc Poirier, a qualified OPP technical traffic collision investigator, who estimated the minimum speed of Laverdure’s SUV was 50 kilometres an hour. The officer then applied calculations based on the distance the victim was thrown upon collision and the tracks created after the SUV’s brakes were applied to revise his estimate to 60 kilometres an hour. Justice James said this was corroborated by the significant damage sustained to the SUV’s smashed windshield and hood. Hall, a considerably tall man weighing 250 pounds, was thrown 26 metres upon impact.
“Obviously, Mr. Hall was struck with considerable force,” said the judge.
Explaining the legal principals behind his decision, Justice James said that in order to be guilty of dangerous driving the accused had been proven to be more than careless in his operation of the motor vehicle. He noted that the Supreme Court in 2012 determined that a single momentary error in judgement with tragic consequences was not enough to establish criminal culpability. In essence, the judge insisted the dangerous driving needed to be placed in context.
In this case, Justice James found the conduct met the test of dangerous driving. He restated that on the night of Jan. 11, 2015, a game at the Pembroke Memorial Centre had just ended with the arena emptying of spectators and a parking lot full of cars with their headlights turned on. This evidence was supported by eyewitnesses who saw an eastbound vehicle stop on Lake Street at the entrance to the PMC parking lot to let pedestrians cross the roadway. As Laverdure approached the area from an eastbound direction, he would have seen this flurry of activity from the Frank Nighbor intersection, the judge added.
“This activity was sufficiently apparent to someone in Mr. Laverdure’s position to cause a reasonable person to slow down and proceed cautiously realizing that some sort of event was underway or had just ended,” said Justice James. “Instead the evidence supports the finding that Mr. Laverdure accelerated in a westbound direction from the intersection towards the PMC without regard for the need to proceed with vigilance.”
The judge conceded Poirier’s assertions that the victims were darkly dressed and there was a dark background making them difficult to see. However, he believed in the Crown evidence that Laverdure had only applied his breaks after hitting Brown.
The maximum sentencing for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years in prison. Defence counsel Jessica Fuller requested a pre-sentence report be prepared for her client. Justice James adjourned sentencing until Jan. 24.