Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Guilty plea pulled, trial ordered

Accused says he didn't cause crash that killed women

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He admitted to killing two young women while driving drunk down a Manitoba highway.

But a 52-year-old man has been allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas in a flip-flop that will send the tragic case to trial.

"As God is my witness, I did not kill those people from alcohol," a sobbing Ernest Meeres told court Monday. "I want to prove my innocence."

Details of the unusual series of events emerged publicly for the first time Monday.

Two women, aged 21 and 23, were killed in October 2011 following a single-vehicle crash on Highway 10, north of Swan River. A third female passenger, aged 25, was injured.

Meeres was behind the wheel of the 2002 Pontiac Grand Am. RCMP charged him with two counts of impaired driving causing death and one count of impaired driving causing bodily harm based on witness reports, a collision-reconstruction report and blood-test results that showed Meeres was over the legal limit at the time.

Meeres appeared in court last December and pleaded guilty to all charges as part of a last-minute deal struck with the Crown. He admitted he understood the offences and was prepared to take responsibility for the deaths.

Sentencing was adjourned so a court-ordered report could be completed. Meeres was told Crown and defence lawyers would jointly recommend he serve two years less a day in a provincial jail.

His lawyer said the Crown would have sought up to four years in a federal penitentiary if he had fought the case and been convicted.

Meeres quickly changed his tune following the hearing, taking the position he had not done anything wrong. His original lawyer withdrew and Meeres hired Winnipeg defence lawyer Sheldon Pinx to take his case and try to reverse the guilty plea.

Their motion was argued Monday.

Provincial court Judge Don Slough -- the same judge who heard Meeres' guilty pleas -- ruled they had met the extremely high legal standard required to overturn such a case.

"I'm not willing to take a chance on a wrongful conviction. This needs to go to trial," Slough said.

Meeres doesn't deny consuming several beers prior to the crash. He admitted Monday he can't take issue with forensic evidence about his blood-alcohol level. However, he claims that ultimately had nothing to do with the deadly incident.

Meeres says one of the women in the car -- he can't say which one -- grabbed the steering wheel and caused the vehicle to veer onto the shoulder, making it flip and crash.

Meeres told police that version of events in his initial interview, maintained it in conversations with his lawyer and is sticking by that explanation.

"I know in my heart, I didn't cause those deaths," Meeres testified Monday. "It was an accident. I will not accept alcohol caused those deaths."

Meeres said he agreed to the plea bargain because he feared going to Stony Mountain Penitentiary on a much longer sentence had he gone to trial and been convicted.

"I've heard a lot of horrible things about Stony. I was stressed out. But I wish I'd never have done that. It was wrong to plead guilty to something I didn't do," he said.

Meeres had agreed to drive the women home from a Flin Flon bar after they offered him gas money.

He said they were extremely intoxicated, cranked the radio in his car and made it difficult to focus on driving. He doesn't know why one of them grabbed the wheel.

He suffered extensive injuries in the crash, including a broken neck.

He tried to revive one of the victims at the scene before police and paramedics arrived. "I thought I was going to die," he sobbed Monday. "This has been a nightmare."

A trial date will have to be set for Meeres, who remained free on bail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2014 A3

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