Harjant Singh’s sentencing hearing has been put over to June, however, to allow for the preparation of a pre-sentence report to assist Superior Court Justice Gary Tranmer in crafting a disposition. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Singh, 35, was charged by Frontenac OPP in the autumn of 2015, after a five-month investigation and analysis of the May 30, 2015, crash that killed Master Cpl. Ryan (Alex) New outright and clipped a northbound Lexus SUV carrying a family of three.
None of the occupants of the Lexus were seriously injured, but their vehicle was flipped on its side up against the guard rail, where its driver, Carlos Aviles, testified that a rear wheel hung up on one of the guard rail cables prevented it from toppling into the adjacent ravine.
Singh’s 18-wheeler, meanwhile, crossed both lanes and plunged off the side of the roadway, travelling at least 67.8 metres down the embankment before coming to rest. He was uninjured.
Toronto defence lawyer Stephen Whitzman, who represented Singh at his trial here in mid-March, argued that the testimony of seven other motorists on Perth Road that Saturday morning fell short of establishing that his client’s driving demonstrated the required “marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in all the circumstances.”
None of the witnesses suggested Singh was speeding or driving aggressively. But three who were driving south behind him — one of them for the entire distance from Westport to the crash site about 6.3 kilometres south of Bedford Mills near Roushorn Road — said they’d had concerns about the way the truck was being operated.
All three independently recalled seeing the transport cross the centre line on the straightaways multiple times and hit the shoulder on the turns, also multiple times, throwing up dust and gravel.
Defence lawyer Whitzman told Justice Tranmer during the trial that his client was not making any claims of driver error by New or his two riding companions that day: retired warrant officer Paul A. Ruth and Sgt. Norman (Alex) Bartlette.
Three Ontario Provincial Police accident reconstructionists, one of whom was certified at the time by the Ministry of Transportation as a commercial vehicle inspector, found no clear explanation for the collision. One told Justice Letourneau that the point of impact between the truck and New’s Honda motorcycle was near the centre of New’s northbound lane and that damage to both vehicles indicated it was the truck’s left front wheel that intruded into the path of the Honda, impacting the bike’s front tire near its engine.
He also told the judge the only mechanical explanation for the transport’s failure to negotiate the curve would have been a catastrophic failure of the steering system.
Investigators weren’t able to examine the operational fitness of entire steering system because of damage to part of it. But they found no operational defects in the part they were able to examine, and the lead investigator testified that he didn’t believe the steering failed.
Data from the tractor-trailer’s tractor engine control module, which was described in court as the engine’s brain, also revealed that Singh’s brakes were never applied before or after hitting the motorcycle. The control module records the vehicle’s driving history, including mileage, hours driven, braking, stops and speeds.
OPP Const. Jeffrey Hewitt, who extracted and analyzed the data, told the judge it was the first case he’d ever seen “where it’s been 100 per cent throttle and no braking at all.”
Asked by defence lawyer Whitzman what might prevent a driver from applying the brakes in such a situation, Hewitt suggested pedal confusion or panic reaction. However, “in a panic situation,” he said, “people tend to go for the brake.”
Whitzman suggested to Justice Tranmer in his closing argument that the possibility of a steering problem couldn’t be ruled out and, tragic as the outcome was, any driving errors on his client’s part that morning should be viewed as “a momentary lapse,” which is insufficient to support a dangerous driving conviction.
Justice Tranmer, in his reasons for his decision, delivered a detailed review of the evidence he’d heard and the relevant case law and noted that the Supreme Court has said “a meaningful inquiry into the driving” is required to establish dangerous driving.
In Singh’s case, he found that “the relevant evidence is not restricted to the brief time frame where the truck crossed the centre line” that last time. “It includes the previous 15 to 18 kilometres of driving.”
He noted that weather and driving conditions were good that day and there was “no other driver conduct in play.”
The road was well marked with signage warning of road conditions ahead and the need to reduce speed coming up on turns.
Yet, following motorists reported the truck crossing the centre line repeatedly and crowding any vehicle in the northbound lane for 15 to 18 kilometres before the collision, Justice Tranmer noted.
In convicting Singh, he said he found that in those 15 to 18 kilometres before the crash, “the accused did not have his transport [truck] under control on 11 or 12 occasions.”
Consequently, he found that Singh’s “failure to perceive the risk and take steps to avoid it does constitute a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonable person.”
Source: The Kingston Whig-Standard