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Why won't the Crown take a shot?

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Family members of two women killed last year want criminal charges laid in the tragedy

Family members of two women killed last year want criminal charges laid in the tragedy

Wayne Gretzky once said "You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take."

It was a great quote from the Great One, essentially saying it's better to try -- and fail -- than to not try at all.

Which brings us to the latest controversy within the Manitoba justice system.

As I wrote about exclusively in Friday's Free Press, a Winnipeg family is angry that no criminal charges are apparently going to be laid in a devastating car crash that killed two loved ones. (Full story HERE)

The facts of the case are incredibly tragic. A mother and daughter, Jeannie Haug and Brittney Chegus, were out for a leisurely drive together and had their lives suddenly cut short when a much-larger vehicle, reportedly travelling as much as 43 km-h over the speed limit, crossed into their lane and hit them head-on.

It's truly one of those "It could have happened to anyone" type of stories that should send a chill through all of us. 

Naturally, the grieving family would like to see those responsible for the two deaths held accountable. 

Yet here we are, more than seven months later, and NOBODY is facing any kind of charge.

Ther Crown did previously authorize a Highway Traffic Act offence against the male passenger of the vehicle, accusing him of grabbing the steering wheel just prior to the crash. But that charge was dropped in early April, when the Crown apparently accepted his explanation that he had to take evasive action when his girlfriend, who was driving, dropped something on the floor and bent down to pick it up, thus taking her eyes off the road.

The family of the two victims have now been told that charges will soon be laid against the female driver. Yet it will apparently only be a Highway Traffic Act offence of careless driving, and not any kind of Criminal Code offence such as dangerous driving. 

That means all that can be expected here is a simple fine, basically akin to a traffic ticket.  

(A quick aside: The Free Press will name the driver if/when a charge is actually laid. And we will thorougly follow the case through the courts until its conclusion. I say this only because I've seen some comments online that we're somehow "protecting" her by not naming her. That's incorrect. We're simply not going to publish her name until/unless she's formally charged) 

Under the Criminal Code, dangerous driving is defined as a "marked departure from the normal standard of care expected of motorists."

To the family, this seems pretty simple. Driving far in excess of the speed limit, taking your eyes off the road, crossing into the wrong lane of traffic and killing two innocent people would appear, on the surface, to be a "marked departure."

Sources tell the Free Press that police investigators feel the same way. 

Clearly, the Crown doesn't see it this way. And they've apparently cited another recent controversial case in Manitoba to try and explain to the family why they won't be pursuing a criminal charge. 

Brittany Murray, 21, died in October 2010 while employed as a highway flag worker. The driver who struck her, 70-year-old Michael Blostein, was found not guilty last year of dangerous driving causing death.

Queen's Bench Justice Doug Abra ruled Blostein's conduct didn't represet a "marked departure", even though there was evidence he was going nearly double the speed limit when he killed Murray. (Full story HERE)

So here's what I'm having trouble understanding.

The Crown has apparently told the family in this most recent double tragedy that the Murray case is playing a role in the decision not to pursue a criminal charge. Ironically, it was the same prosecutor, Craig Savage, assigned to both cases.

"It feels like because he didn't win that one, he doesn't even want to try here," Darrel Haug, the brother and uncle of the two victims, told me this week.

Yet here's the thing: The Crown is actually appealing the Murray decision, saying Abra was wrong in his verdict and didn't correctly apply the law. A date with the Manitoba Court of Appeal is pending. (Full story HERE)

So why would the Crown use a judgment that they CLEARLY believe was wrong as the grounds for making a decision on this case?

Furthermore, even if the Crown believed they may have a tough time proving dangerous driving, why wouldn't they at least try rater than settle for a paltry HTA offence? They certainly tried in the Murray case, and despite losing are now fighting for a new trial.

And they certainly tried in another case that's currently before the courts, where a driver is on trial for dangerous driving for a crash where he was allegedly on his cellphone. My colleague, James Turner, wrote about the issue HERE.

In fact, I could list dozens and dozens of cases that I've covered over the years where dangerous driving charges were laid. Some ended up as convictions, and yes, some ended up as acquittals. 

Here are just a few local examples, all from the past two years, where the Crown laid dangerous driving charges:

*Man charged in fatal highway crash 

*Ex-student sentenced in rollover that injured six 

*Driver not guilty in deadly crash on highway 

*Ex-cop's son gets plea deal for car crash 

*30 days for deadly inattention 

*Fatal crash acquittal stuns Crown 

*Driver spared jail time for killing pedestrian 

So what's the problem here? The family of the two victims certainly want the Crown to lay a criminal charge, even though they know a conviction might not be a slam-dunk.

Yes, the Crown has a duty to properly apply the law. But who in their right mind would accuse the Crown of being malicious, or frivolous, if they were to take a chance in these circumstances and lay a criminal charge? 

As James Turner Tweeted on Friday, the Crown "has an obligation to pursue cases when it's in the public interest and there's a reasonable likelihood of conviction."

So, given all that we know about this particular case and how they've proceeded in many other instances, why won't they take a shot?

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About Mike McIntyre

Journalist, national radio show host, author, pundit and cruise director ... Mike McIntyre loves to keep busy.

Mike is the justice reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, where he has worked since 1997. He produces and hosts the weekly talk radio show Crime and Punishment, which runs on the Corus Radio Network in several Canadian cities.

Born and bred in Winnipeg, Mike graduated from River East Collegiate and completed his journalism studies in the Creative Communications program at Red River College.

He and his wife, Chassity, have two children.

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