August 16/99 8:20 am - Motorist Kills Cyclist
Posted by Editor on 08/16/99
Motorist Fired From Job After Killing Cyclist
(courtesy Darrell Noakes)
The following tells the story of a disturbing chain of events that has occurred in Saskatchewan.
SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (Canada), June 10, 1999 -- Donna Singer, 52, a Regina motorist acquitted in April of impaired driving charges resulting from the June, 1997 death of cyclist Donald Jaques, has been fired from her job as an elementary school teacher.
Singer's employer, Regina School Division No. 4, announced today that they have dismissed Singer. Singer had been suspended without pay after being charged in Jaques death.
School board chairman John Conway, in describing the board's unanimous decision to dismiss the teacher, said that Singer's admission that she had "some" wine before driving on the day she struck Jaques was enough for the board to decide that she had acted inappropriately.
Following Singer's acquittal in April, the school division received a flood of calls and letters from the public and concerned parents expressing outrage at the outcome of the trial.
Singer was found not guilty of impaired driving April 22 after breathalyser evidence showing that she had high levels of blood alcohol was ruled inadmissible because of errors in police procedure. Singer's defense argued that Jacques likely swerved into the path of Singer's car.
Donald Jaques, 61, was killed June 4, 1997 while riding with his wife and other members of the Wascana Freewheelers Bicycle Touring Club of Regina.
Singer's union, the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, intends to appeal the decision.
Motorist Found Not Guilty in Death of Regina Cyclist
Singer, charged with impaired driving causing death, was found not guilty on April 22. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Catherine Dawson reached the verdict after ruling the previous week that police breathalyser evidence was inadmissible. Originally expected to last four days, the verdict ended four weeks of testimony and legal argument which began on March 29.
Singer's automobile collided with Donald Jaques at about 8 p.m. on June 4, 1997 while he was riding with the Wascana Freewheelers bicycle club. Jaques, 61, died at the scene.
Police conducted a breathalyser test on Singer two hours after the collision and determined that the driver had a blood-alcohol level two-and-a-half times the legal limit of 0.08 ml/l. On her first test, police recorded a level of 0.19 and, on her second, 0.18.
Following the verdict, Kevin Jaques, a Regina lawyer and son of the slain cyclist, told reporters and bystanders that the ruling made the family feel victimized again. He said he understood that the judge couldn't convict Singer once the breathalyser evidence was ruled inadmissible.
Jaques said he would like to see the law changed so that police don't need to see physical signs of impairment before asking for a breathalyser test.
Crown prosecutor Sharon Pratchler said studies and evidence show that mental impairment occurs much more quickly than physical impairment.
Aaron Fox, Singer's lawyer said that the verdict cleared his client of any wrong doing and told those present that the cyclist was to blame for the collision.
Police Erred in Breathalyser Test, Judge Ruled
The judge ruled that police erred in conducting the breathalyser test because they had pressured Singer into taking the test after her lawyer advised her to refuse and because they had insufficient probable cause to ask her to take the test.
In court, Regina Police Service Constable Al Hunt said that on the night of Jacques' death, Singer admitted she drank two glasses of wine before the collision. He said he didn't think Singer was drunk because she showed no typical signs of impairment. He said he thought she might be an "experienced drinker" who doesn't readily appear drunk, consulted with his supervisor, then asked Singer if she would take a voluntary breathalyser test at a police station. Tate said that on the way to the station he realised that Singer was drunk. He said he smelled alcohol and noticed Singer's eyes seemed glassy, red and slightly bloodshot. He said he told Hunt at the station that he thought Singer was "loaded".
Singer at first agreed to take the voluntary test, but after phoning Legal Aid, Singer told police she was advised not to. Constable Paul Tate, a breathalyser technician with the Regina Police Service, then called Legal Aid to confirm that a lawyer had provided that advice.
"I wanted to make sure she was getting the proper information," Tate told the court. "And I wanted to make sure she was talking to a lawyer and not someone fictitious."
A short time later Singer agreed to take the test.
Both officers also commented that Singer didn't cry at all throughout the evening.
"She showed no emotion whatsoever," said Tate.
Singer's lawyer, Aaron Fox, argued that police should not have tested his client. Police interfered with Singers charter right to obtain counsel, he said, because they continued to persuade her to take the test after a lawyer advised her not to.
Fox argued that police did not think she was drunk and therefore had no reasonable grounds to demand the test in the first place, he said.
Fox also argued that the breathalyser test was taken just outside the two hour limit. The law says police must take the test within two hours. Otherwise, an alcohol expert must testify and calculate the accused's level of blood-alcohol.
Crown prosecutor Sharon Pratchler argued that police tended to the victim first. Their attention was divided between other priorities besides whether or not Singer was drunk, she said. She said that because Singer had a cast on her ankle, it was difficult for police to say for sure if alcohol affected her ability to walk.
Cyclist Hit From Behind, Experts Testify:
Earlier in the trial, Mavis Jaques, who was riding beside her husband at the time of the collision, testified that she did not see what happened because she was watching traffic on an overpass to determine when it would be safe to cross a merge lane they were approaching.
"I heard a terrible explosion sound, a shattering noise," she to the court, struggling to keep her composure. "I jumped. When I turned, I knew Don had been hit because I saw him flying through the air. I called out to Don and he didn't answer. That was scary."
In cross examining Mavis Jaques' testimony, Fox asked if she told police that her husband swerved into traffic.
She insisted she didn't recall telling anyone that her husband swerved. She said her husband was "an experienced and good rider" who travelled almost a metre inside the shoulder that day.
A man who arrived on the scene to help, testified that he saw a car, identified as the one driven by Singer, pull onto the shoulder nearby and stop. Stan Velmer told the court that the Pontiac had a smashed windshield and damaged roof. He said he saw Singer get out of the car in an ankle cast and talking on a cell phone.
"She had a limp when she walked and didn't walk that steady," he testified.
Two accident reconstruction experts testified that Donald Jaques' fatal injuries and damage to his bicycle show that he was hit from behind and didn't swerve into traffic.
Regina police Constable Robert Simard said Jaques' injures to the back of the head and shoulders indicated that he was hit from behind. He said if Jaques had swerved left into traffic, his left side would have been more seriously injured and the same side of the bicycle would have had more damage. Simard said there was no debris from the collision in the driving lane.
"There is no indication of this bike being struck on the left hand side," said Simard. "If he was, there's a good chance he might have been run over."
Sergeant Gary Pare told the court that it appeared Singer had straddled the shoulder and wandered inside that lane.
Under cross-examination, Fox asked Pare if Jaques' left-side injuries were serious enough to indicate the victim had swerved into the driving lane.
Pare said the injuries were serious, but said the evidence indicated Jaques was hit from behind.