Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Driver not guilty in deadly crash on highway

Not a criminal act, judge rules

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Nikolaj Derksen ran a highway stop sign, struck another vehicle and killed a female passenger while going as fast as 112 kilometres per hour.

But the Manitoba motorist did not commit a criminal act on that tragic June 2009 morning, a judge ruled.

Derksen, 41, was found not guilty Thursday of dangerous driving causing death. Queen's Bench Justice Doug Abra said despite the deadly result, Derksen's failure to stop did not represent a "marked departure" from the normal standard of care expected of motorists.

"There's no question the result of the accused's conduct was tragic," said Abra. "But in deciding whether the accused drove dangerously, I cannot consider the tragic results of the collision."

Abra said a lack of other factors -- such as excessive speeding, alcohol, reckless driving or inattention -- makes it difficult to conclude the Crown had proven "beyond a reasonable doubt" Derksen is guilty.

There was also evidence presented at trial last month that many other motorists often miss seeing the stop sign and go through it, which Abra said he took into consideration.

Margaret Harries, 67, a passenger in a car travelling east on Provincial Road 311 in southern Manitoba, died at the scene. Her husband was behind the wheel and had started through the intersection at PR 206 when the northbound minivan Derksen was driving blew through the stop sign and T-boned their vehicle.

"It was like when a bat hits a ball," witness William Hornick told court during the trial. He was travelling west on PR 311 but slowed before reaching the intersection when he saw the van approaching fast.

"He was going pretty fast... it seems as if he sped up, as a matter of fact," said Hornick, who lives and works in the area and travels the same route daily. "That corner is a bad corner. I see people go through that stop sign often."

Hornick rushed towards the two crumpled vehicles after they came to rest in a field and ditch just off the highway. He said Derksen quickly jumped out of the minivan and was clearly distraught as he went to check on the car he'd just hit. Derksen helped the driver out of the wreckage, but it was too late for anyone to save the man's wife.

"I knew she was dead," said Hornick. "(Derksen) was apologizing to (the husband). He just didn't see him. Didn't look that way, I guess."

Hornick said road and weather conditions were perfect that sunny morning around 6:30 a.m., but admitted even he had difficultly spotting the victim's car because it matched the colour of the pavement. However, he said, Derksen shouldn't have had any trouble spotting the stop sign, especially since it included a blinking red light on top.

An RCMP collision expert told court Derksen was travelling between 109 km/h and 112 km/h at the point of impact, and no skid marks were found indicating any attempt to stop. The posted speed limit is 100 km/h.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 A13

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