Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crown wants jail for deadly crash

Family upset criminal charge not laid

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Justice officials will seek a jail sentence for a Winnipeg motorist following a deadly crash -- even though no criminal charges were laid.

Crystal Vandal, 29, has been charged under the Highway Traffic Act with two counts of careless driving causing death. She was formally served by police last week following an eight-month investigation. The Crown opted not to proceed under the Criminal Code in a move that angered the family of the victims.

But relatives told the Free Press Monday they've been assured by prosecutor Craig Savage that he will still seek custody if Vandal is convicted. The maximum sentence under the HTA is two years.

Vandal has been released on a promise to appear in court June 24. The allegations have not been proven and she is presumed innocent.

Jeannie Haug, 43, and her daughter, Brittney Chegus, 23, were killed when a speeding, out-of-control SUV crossed over into an oncoming lane and slammed head-on into their compact car. The crash occurred in September 2013 near Gateway Road and Budden Drive in East Kildonan.

The car rolled several times and ended up on its roof. Emergency crews used the Jaws of Life to get the occupants out of the crumpled wreckage and attempted CPR before rushing the pair to hospital, where both were pronounced dead.

Haug left behind a 10-year-old special-needs daughter, a 20-year-old son and a one-year-old granddaughter, along with numerous other extended family members.

Vandal -- allegedly behind the wheel of the SUV -- suffered minor injuries. Her boyfriend, who was in the passenger seat, was also injured. Family members of the two victims told the Free Press the police investigation determined the woman may have been driving as fast as 103 km/h in the 60 km/h zone.

Following an initial investigation, police charged only the boyfriend, Carl Balan, with the rare Highway Traffic Act offence of obstructing the driver of a motor vehicle. Family members say this came as a result of his admission he grabbed the steering wheel from his girlfriend prior to the crash.

However, the Crown stayed that HTA offence April 1. Family members say they were told it was because Balan explained he was trying to protect himself and others on the road when his girlfriend dropped something on the floor and reached down to pick it up.

Darrel Haug, the brother and uncle of the two victims, said Monday he doesn't understand why a criminal charge of dangerous driving isn't being pursued. He noted a conviction under the Highway Traffic Act doesn't carry the same stigma, or even a criminal record, and believes it's more difficult for a jail sentence to be imposed.

"Everything in this case points to dangerous driving," Amy Chegus, the niece and cousin of the two victims, said Monday.

Under the Criminal Code, the Crown must prove a driver is guilty of a "marked departure from the normal standard of care" to meet the threshold for dangerous driving.

Darrel Haug said the Crown has told him and other family members they likely would lose at trial if they were to pursue criminal charges. He said Savage specifically pointed to the recent case of Brittany Murray, the 21-year-old highway flag worker who was struck and killed outside Winnipeg in 2010.

The Crown laid a charge of dangerous driving causing death in that case, only to have it end in an acquittal at trial. The Manitoba Court of Appeal recently upheld the verdict, saying excessive speed alone isn't enough to prove the charge.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2014 A4

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