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Burin Peninsula man guilty of imprudent driving in winter storm accident

['"Scales of Justice" statue representing the Roman goddess of justice personifying moral force. (Photo via wikimedia commons)']
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Judge says drivers are required to expect the unexpected on the highway

During a blustery winter storm on the Burin Peninsula on the afternoon of Feb. 1 of this year, Alexander Farrell drove his truck into the tailgate of a truck that had stopped in a line of traffic that was held up to allow a tow truck time to haul a vehicle out of a ditch.

In provincial court in Grand Bank, Farrell said he was driving the speed limit of 90 km/h at the time. In his statement to police on the day of the accident, however, he said he was driving 70 km/h. He explained the discrepancy in court by saying he told the RCMP officer that his speed was 70 km/h “to keep him happy.”

In a decision filed on Friday, Judge Harold Porter found Farrell guilty of imprudent driving, by driving a vehicle on a highway without due care and attention.

“We don’t know how fast the accused was driving immediately before he collided with the rear of Joshua Murphy’s pickup truck. But we do know that he was going too fast to avoid the collision,” Porter stated.

“The accused failed to see oncoming cars which were trying to warn him by flashing their lights, he failed to take note of the hazard lights flashing on Murphy’s truck, he failed to reduce his speed in windy and snowy conditions, and he was travelling too fast to safely stop his vehicle when he came upon the line of traffic.

“All of this leads to only one conclusion: he was imprudent in his driving.”

“We don’t know how fast the accused was driving immediately before he collided with the rear of Joshua Murphy’s pickup truck. But we do know that he was going too fast to avoid the collision." — Judge Harold Porter

The facts of the case, noted in Porter’s decision, state that the weather that day saw snow and high winds — sometimes squalls of snow brought visibility on the highway down to zero, to whiteout conditions.

An accident on the highway resulted in one vehicle going into the ditch and police were on the scene to stop and direct traffic while the vehicle was removed from the ditch.

“At around 2:40 p.m., Const. Stride heard the sound of the engine of a vehicle coming towards the accident scene. The engine noise sounded to him as if the vehicle was travelling fast,” the decision reads. “A pickup truck appeared out of the snow and collided with the rear bumper of another pickup, which was the last vehicle in the line of traffic.”

The RCMP officer had to duck to avoid flying debris from the collision. He then saw a man running south from the area where the truck had rear-ended the stopped truck. That man was Farrell.

The RCMP searched for the accused, but could not find him. About 5 p.m., however, he came into the RCMP station in Marystown to give a statement about the collision.

Farrell told the police that the weather wasn’t bad, and that he hadn’t noticed anyone flashing their lights at him. As he came around a turn, he said, he met a “whiteout.” He said that he slowed down and put his hazard lights on. He said that he was disoriented and felt panicked, “like you would be.”

“Crown counsel put to the accused that he had slammed on his brakes (he had said that in his statement),” Porter said. “He denied having done so, and then said that he had been going 90 km/hr. Crown counsel pounced on the contradiction. The accused responded by saying, ‘I guess I did slam on the brakes’.”

Porter noted that the Highway Traffic Act requires that drivers must act prudently at all times.

“What is prudent depends on the circumstances. For example, a prudent driver should expect to find a large number of children on a residential street on halloween and reduce his speed accordingly,” Porter said.

“In many parts of the province, drivers can expect to see wildlife on the road, including moose. As a result, a prudent driver must expect the unexpected on the highway.

“Newfoundlanders know that the weather is constantly changing, and that, (with all due respect to meteorologists) it is often unpredictable. Cold temperatures, wind, blowing snow, and snow squalls are to be expected in Newfoundland in February. Drivers are required to take the weather and road conditions into account, and adjust their driving accordingly. They are required by law to expect the unexpected.”

Sentencing will be held at a later date.

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