A Toronto businesswoman has been cleared of all charges in connection to a fatal hit-and-run collision in an east end laneway three years ago.
Defence lawyer Daniel Brown said the case has caused “unending apprehension and mental agony” for his client, former bank equity trader and NUMI clothing line founder Michelle Shemilt.
“We are grateful that the Crown Attorney rightly considered that there was no prospect of conviction after examining all of the evidence in this case,” Mr. Brown wrote in an e-mail Monday.
The case stems back to the afternoon of Sept. 21, 2018, when 57-year-old homeless man Michael Watts died after being hit by a vehicle.
On Jan. 3, 2019, Ms. Shemilt was arrested and charged with failing to stop at the scene of an accident that involved death and causing death by criminal negligence. The latter charge was withdrawn six months later, citing no prospect of conviction. On Friday, the remaining charge was also withdrawn.
According to an affidavit filed by police to obtain a search warrant during the investigation, security camera footage showing a portion of the laneway recorded a cyclist and then two cars driving through the day of the incident: a black Dodge SUV, followed by a silver Audi.
The cyclist, police said in the affidavit, came across a man and, concerned he was at risk of being hit, stopped to talk to him – later telling investigators that the man appeared intoxicated but was conscious and said he was fine.
A few minutes later came the Dodge SUV, officers said, driven by Ms. Shemilt, who was then-35. She called police to report a man lying in the alley soon after, once she had pulled into her driveway, and was told an ambulance was already en route.
By this time, the silver Audi had now also turned down the laneway, and the driver – novelist Michael Ondaatje – had also called police to report a man with serious head injuries.
Mr. Watts was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His injuries, an autopsy concluded, were consistent with a vehicle collision.
The affidavit noted that investigators cleared Mr. Ondaatje, as his Audi showed no signs of a collision.
Suspicious of what they described as discrepancies in Ms. Shemilt’s account of her discovery of the man – including whether she had been walking or driving at the time – police obtained a search warrant to analyze her SUV.
By e-mail Monday, Mr. Brown said the defence had “scrutinized the physical, medical, and forensic evidence, identified potential alternative suspects, and engaged our own accident reconstructionist to demonstrate gaping holes in the Crown Attorney’s case.”
He added: “Although her innocence in this case is undeniable, there may be some who cling to the belief that she did something wrong. Once charged, never entirely exonerated. However, an accusation is just that – an accusation.”
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