Braking to save ducks leads to highway carnage and criminal trial

The Globe and Mail

It was early on a Sunday evening and a young woman named Emma Czornobaj was driving south of Montreal when she stopped to avoid hitting some ducks that were crossing the highway.

What happened next was a road accident that killed a motorcyclist and his teenaged daughter.

Ms. Czornobaj’s moment of concern for the birds led to criminal charges. She will go on trial and could face jail time if found guilty.

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Ms. Czornobaj, a 25-year-old resident of Châteauguay, south of Montreal, appeared at the Longueuil courthouse Wednesday and heard that the date for her jury trial had been set for June 2, 2014.

“We are alleging that the fact that she stopped her vehicle constituted dangerous driving and criminal negligence,” prosecutor Annie-Claude Chassé said in an interview.

Ms. Czornobaj is facing two counts of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of dangerous operation of motor vehicles causing death.

As someone without a previous criminal record, Ms. Czornobaj would not be liable to life in prison, the maximum sentence for those offences, but the Crown would seek a jail term if she is found guilty, Ms. Chassé said.

The accident happened around 7:20 p.m., on June 27, 2010, near Candiac, south of Montreal.

Ms. Czornobaj was heading west on Highway 30, a four-lane thoroughfare separated by a median.

She is alleged to have stopped her Honda Civic in the passing lane of the highway because she saw ducks were passing through the road.

Coming up behind her were two motorcycles carrying a family heading back to their home in neighbouring Saint-Constant.

A 50-year-old mail carrier, André Roy, rode on one of the bikes, with his 16-year-old daughter, Jessie, riding pillion. Following them on the other motorcycle was Mr. Roy’s 43-year-old spouse, Pauline Volikakis.

“The car was stopped. My daughter did a 360 in the air. She landed between the car and the median. I couldn’t do anything ,” Ms. Volikakis said in an interview she gave the TVA network shortly after the accident.

TVA reported at the time that Ms. Czornobaj was outside the fully stopped car, standing on the highway shoulder, and that Ms. Volikakis recalled hearing Mr. Roy shouting at the driver to watch out before he collided with the car.

Even without the two deaths, Ms. Czornobaj could have been faulted for breaching Section 384 of the Quebec Highway Safety Code, which says that no one can stop a vehicle on a roadway where the maximum speed is 70 kilometres per hour or more, “unless in case of necessity.”

Ms. Czornobaj, who graduated last year from Concordia University with a commerce degree, was recently working as an analyst at the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Her Facebook profile picture showed her standing with a smile next to a motorcycle. Following her court appearance Wednesday, that picture was replaced by a photo of her doberman.

The trial had originally been scheduled for April after the defence agreed last year to waive its right to a preliminary hearing. However, Ms. Czornobaj later sought a postponement after retaining a new counsel, Marc Labelle, a veteran lawyer who is known for his willingness to represent unpopular defendants.

Mr. Labelle didn’t answer interview requests left with his office this week. He previously told Global News that what happened the day of the crash was an unfortunate accident.

“This is the point the jury will have to decide,” he said following Wednesdays’ court appearance. “This is the question in this case.”

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