Crown prosectors say there was nothing reasonable about a Quebecker’s decision to park her car on a busy highway to help ducks, an act they allege triggered events that left two people dead.
Emma Czornobaj has pleaded not guilty to two counts each of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death.
Czornobaj, now 25, is accused in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his daughter Jessie, 16.
Roy was driving and his daughter was riding pillion on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that slammed into the accused’s car in June, 2010.
The Crown said in its opening statement Tuesday that Czornobaj, of Chateauguay, wasn’t physically in her car and that the vehicle was at a dead stop in the left lane of a highway south of Montreal.
Prosecutor Annie-Claude Chasse said witness and police testimony will show she was on a narrow patch next to the passing lane, tending to a family of ducks on the roadway.
“Would a reasonable and prudent person, in the same circumstances as was the accused, have done the same?” Chasse asked the jury. “Would that reasonable and prudent person have stopped their car, on a busy highway, in order to save some ducks?”
The charges are serious. Criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum life sentence while the charge of dangerous driving causing death comes with a maximum of 14 years in jail. Czornobaj has no previous record.
Witnesses expected to testify include Pauline Volikakis, who lost her husband and only child in the tragedy. She was riding in a motorcycle behind the two victims and saw the events as they unfolded on Highway 30, south of Montreal.
On Tuesday, eyewitness Martine Tessier testified she was driving along the same stretch of highway on June 27, 2010. The weather was nice, the sun was setting and the road conditions were excellent.
Tessier said she was driving about 110 kilometres an hour when she saw a woman along the side of the road seemingly trying to shoo along a family of ducks.
“I shouted to my kids [in the car], ‘What is she doing there? She’s going to get killed,’ ” Tessier told the jury.
She testified that, moments later, she was staring down a car, completely stopped with no hazard lights on, with the door open on the driver’s side.
“It was close enough that I knew I didn’t have time to brake,” Tessier said. Instead, she swerved to get around the car. Then she looked back in her rear-view mirror and saw something else hit the vehicle.
“I saw a body go over the car, it was like a rag doll,” Tessier said. “I shouted to my daughter to call 911 with my cellphone.”
The jury is composed of 10 men and two women, while three weeks have been set aside for the trial.
The two victims were from St-Constant.