Truck driver gets five years for fatal crash in construction zone
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A truck driver who killed a young girl and a motorcyclist when his speeding tractor-trailer slammed into a line of vehicles in a Manitoba highway construction zone has been sentenced to five years in prison.
Court was told James Randell, 59, drove past seven signs warning of upcoming construction and a reduced speed limit before his semi rear-ended a Honda Odyssey minivan at 99 km/h just east of Fannystelle.
Seven-year-old Ariel Issa, a passenger with family in the Odyssey, and 61-year-old Christopher Chapdelaine, who was on a motorcycle third in line from the van, were killed in the July 2, 2020, collision on Highway 2.
Five others, between the ages of seven months and 22, suffered significant injuries.
“This was not a brief moment of inattention or missing of a single traffic signal,” Justice Scott Abel said Jan. 13 in Portage la Prairie’s Court of King’s Bench. “There was an inexcusable lack of attentiveness for a period of time, travelling at a high rate of speed in a large vehicle.”
While the victims’ families and some of the survivors looked on from the gallery, the judge said the crash was preventable and avoidable, with Randell having an obligation to pay attention as a professional driver.
Chapdelaine’s partner, Leah Rudnick, who attended the hearing, told the Free Press his death has been hard on family and friends.
“It was very difficult to hear because you’re actually going through it again,” she said Wednesday of the sentencing.
Some people think the sentence should have been longer, she noted.
“I guess it’s fair. I’m not sure,” said Rudnick. “The prosecutors did what they could, the defendant did what he could and, ultimately, it’s up to the judge.”
After trial dates were set, Randell, from Shellbrook, Sask., pleaded guilty in May 2022 to two counts of dangerous driving causing death and five counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
He was sentenced to five years each, to run concurrently, for the two deaths.
For the injuries, he received 30 months to be served concurrently to each other and the two more serious charges. He was given credit for 41 days spent in custody.
Randell will be banned from driving for 10 years after he is released from prison. His sentence includes a 10-year weapons prohibition and an order to provide a DNA sample.
The Crown was seeking for a seven-year prison sentence and a lifetime driving prohibition. The defendant asked for a two-year sentence and a driving ban of 10 years.
Court heard Randell was travelling just over 100 km/h and hit the brakes seconds before he crashed into a line of seven eastbound vehicles, which were stopped for construction in a 60-km/h zone shortly before noon.
The brakes were applied about seven metres from the area of impact. Vehicles were pushed into each other upon impact.
Ariel, who was from Winnipeg, and Chapdelaine, who lived in the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews, died at the scene, about 50 kilometres southwest of the capital city.
Rudnick said Chapdelaine was outgoing, friendly and loved being outdoors and working on vehicles. He owned CDC Installations, a window and door company, and was involved in charity work.
“He was a very kind gentleman. If you needed anything, he was always the first to be there to help,” said Rudnick.
After his funeral service, almost 100 motorcycle riders took part in a procession to a cemetery.
“He was a real generous person,” said friend Scott Stephen. “(The collision) devastated a lot of families. He was a guy enjoying what he enjoyed most, which is riding his bike in the country. It ended in tragedy, which is unfortunate.”
After the crash, a seriously-injured 14-year-old girl in the Odyssey, which had seven occupants, was placed in a medically-induced coma, court heard.
Three other children, including a seven-month-old boy and a two-year-old girl, were also injured.
Court was told a 22-year-old woman, also in the minivan, suffered a life-altering brain injury. She resides in a transitional living centre.
Abel cited impact statements from victims who have post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and fear being in a car.
After entering the marked 60-km/h zone, Randell’s semi-truck, hauling an empty trailer, travelled about 445 metres at more than 100 km/h.
He was not speeding before the seven warning signs were missed, court heard.
Randell called 911 and told an operator he caused the crash and hit the brakes “too late,” said Abel.
The driver gave varying possible explanations in a statement to the RCMP, including he might have been daydreaming, he didn’t see the signs, and he could have fallen asleep.
In a news release after the incident, police said 15 people were injured.
Abel noted Randell had a clear view of the vehicles in front of him, there were no mechanical issues with his truck and the weather and road conditions were not factors.
Court was told Randell’s driving record includes five speeding offences and three stop sign offences. The most recent offence before the crash occurred in 2009.
Citing a pre-sentencing report, Abel said Randell acknowledges he made a terrible mistake and accepts full responsibility.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, January 18, 2023 9:55 PM CST: Fixes typo