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Fatal accident after Quebec woman stopped for ducks not criminal: defence lawyer

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MONTREAL - A driver's decision to stop her car on a highway to save ducklings was a spur of the moment decision and not a criminal act, says the lawyer for a woman on trial in the deaths of two people.

Emma Czornobaj, now 25, is charged in the 2010 deaths of a father and daughter who were riding a motorcycle that slammed into her idling car.

"You are in the presence here of an accident with no criminal element," her lawyer, Marc Labelle, told the jury Wednesday. "There is no bad intention anywhere on the accused's part."

Czornobaj is charged with two counts each of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his 16-year-old daughter, Jessie, on June 27, 2010.

She was charged 14 months later.

The jury of 10 men and two women began hearing closing arguments from lawyers after the evidence wrapped up Wednesday.

Labelle told the jury his client made a snap decision to help the ducks.

He said the evidence suggests Czornobaj then took precautions to ensure no lives were endangered by parking as far over as she could in the left lane and activating her hazard lights.

She previously testified she left her door open and the engine running because she didn't expect to be there long.

Labelle said her decision could be questioned but that there was no criminal element to it.

"This accident was caused by this choice that she made in the first place," he conceded.

"But after she took that decision (to stop), she took all the necessary steps to make sure she would not endanger her life or the life of anybody."

Labelle suggested speed had a part to play.

At least two vehicles managed to get around her car. The Crown's expert testified that Roy's motorcycle was doing at least 105 km/h at the time of impact.

His wife, Pauline Volikakis, was travelling behind in another motorcycle at a slower pace and managed to stop.

Labelle said he wasn't trying to show Roy was guilty of anything, but that speed was an issue.

"I'm stressing this because it may be the reason for the accident," he explained.

The province's highway safety code states that stopping on a highway or walking on a highway are forbidden, although there is an exception in the case of a "necessity." A police witness for the Crown confirmed that necessity is not clearly defined.

"One may say that stopping for ducklings is not a necessity," Labelle said. "The other question is, 'OK, is it criminal?'"

He noted that Czornobaj has no previous record and has only lost two demerit points since earning her driver's licence at age 18.

Labelle argued that her version of the events opens the door to an acquittal on all counts.

But the Crown has contended that a reasonable and prudent person would not have stopped his or her car.

Czornobaj repeated she wanted to save the ducklings and that the mother duck wasn't present. A lover of animals, she said her intent was to put them in the back seat and drive them to her place. But they moved away as she approached.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Annie-Claude Chasse suggested to Czornobaj that her actions weren't logical.

The accused disagreed.

"At the time, it's what I decided to do," Czornobaj said.

And today?, Chasse asked.

"Obviously now I would not have stopped," she said.

Czornobaj was the only defence witness.

The Crown will present its closing arguments Thursday morning and the jury isn't expected to begin deliberations until next Monday.

Follow (at)sidhartha_b on Twitter.

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