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This article was published 15/7/2011 (3286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With his wife paralyzed by the pain of contractions that jeopardized her pregnancy, David Weber hit the gas pedal to save his unborn baby's life.
Now, the 32-year-old father is sitting in his farmhouse in rural Manitoba, frustrated by a system that has left him caring for a young family with a whopping speeding ticket and a suspended licence.
Weber plans to appeal the licence suspension at a hearing with Manitoba Public Insurance next week -- but first, he hopes to be publicly heard.
On March 21, Weber and his wife Genevieve, 29, were on their way back to their spacious hobby farm outside Portage la Prairie, after a day spent shopping in Winnipeg. Genevieve was 38 weeks pregnant with the couple's second child; due to a complication while giving birth to daughter Madison, now 3, doctors warned that natural labour could put future babies at risk.
So when contractions struck and blood started to flow inside their vehicle on Highway 1 near Oakville, the Webers panicked.
Their hope: make it to Brandon General Hospital, where Genevieve's doctors and medical records were waiting. She was scheduled to have a Caesarean section there only five days later, still a week before her due date; but at that moment, with Genevieve's contractions already coming fewer than five minutes apart, fear set in.
Although he doesn't usually speed, he said, David hit the gas on the couple's silver Honda Civic, surging as fast as 170 kilometres an hour on clear and lightly trafficked roads. When the couple saw an RCMP cruiser's lights flash just outside Portage la Prairie, they were "really relieved," Genevieve said. "We were thinking, 'Now we'll get escorted!' "
Indeed, the officer encouraged them to go to Portage General Hospital to seek surgery or call an ambulance to take them to Brandon. But worried about transfer time, and the fact that they had been advised that Portage General Hospital does not normally perform routine C-sections, the stressed couple begged to push forward to Brandon.
Instead of an escort, they came away from the 15-minute traffic stop with a $1,000 speeding ticket -- and a warning. "He said, 'If you go to Brandon, I don't want to see you guys speeding,'" David said. "I was half-crying... I said, 'We don't have time for a lecture.' (I was) trying to save my wife and baby's life."
Back on the road, with Genevieve in increasing pain, Weber hit the gas again. Thirty minutes later, he was stopped by a Carberry RCMP officer who had been alerted that the Webers may be speeding towards Brandon. The Carberry officer issued David another speeding ticket, warned him again of the dangers of speeding and called an ambulance.
The Webers estimate they waited about 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.
"I couldn't believe this was happening," Genevieve recalled. "I want my baby to be safe, and they're not taking me seriously. They're not protecting us. There's no common sense left, or something."
The good news -- the Webers' baby, Anabela, was born healthy in Brandon after an emergency C-section.
Soon after the incident, Weber -- who does not have a history of dangerous driving, he said -- went before a justice of the peace to ask for compassion, showing a letter from their doctor that, by the time Genevieve made it into the operating room, her uterus was "very close to rupture" and Anabela was in distress.
"She knew she had to come to the hospital as soon as possible due to concerns... with dire consequences for the baby as well as possibly mother," Dr. J.B. Helms stated. "In light of these circumstances, I think (Genevieve) and her husband did the right thing... It was thus unavoidable for them to drive faster than normal."
Despite the doctor's support, the justice of the peace declined to drop Weber's ticket or replace it with a reprimand -- though he did lower the price of the ticket to $400.
The Webers might have let the story end there, but for what happened next: in June, David Weber was called before an MPI hearing officer to explain the speeding. On July 8, the hearing officer's verdict came down: as a result of the ticket, Weber's licence will be suspended for five months.
To get it back he'll have to take a safe-driving course and could pay as much as $1,000 to renew his licence for years to come.
For a working father in rural Manitoba, with a newborn baby and a three-year-old at home, it's a nerve-wracking loss. Even applying for a special permit to get to work at his sales job in Portage la Prairie could take months, he said.
Though officials from MPI and RCMP would not comment on the specifics of Weber's case, citing privacy concerns, both noted that protocols are designed to keep Manitoba's roads safe -- while allowing for occasional crises. Reports indicate that many of those procedures were followed in the Webers' case.
"In any case of medical emergency, we would request an ambulance so they could get emergency medical assistance or escort them to hospital. Both would be offered," said RCMP spokesman Const. Miles Hiebert. "We would take them to the nearest hospital."
MPI spokesman Brian Smiley explained that a ticket for speeding at least 50 km/h above the posted limit is grounds for an automatic hearing on licence suspension. While medical emergencies would certainly be considered in the decision, Smiley said, an overarching factor is whether the ticket was upheld by a magistrate -- as Weber's was.
"In a situation where the person provides the medical information, or the ticket can be overturned at court level, it does give a little more flexibility for the hearing officer," Smiley said.
On hearing about the case, Len Eastoe, a former police officer who runs Traffic Ticket Experts, said the situation might have been better handled by RCMP officers driving Genevieve to hospital in their cruisers. "An emergency situation arrives, and you don't wait for the ambulance," Eastoe said. "You're driving an emergency vehicle... you get them to hospital."
Barring that, the exceptional circumstances around Weber's speeding ticket could well have merited more leniency from a justice of the peace, Eastoe said -- either dropping the ticket or a reprimand, which does not result in licence demerits.
"In a circumstance like this, (a discharge or reprimand) is certainly something the justice of the peace should be considering," Eastoe said. "Especially in a life-or-death situation. How do you not allow for something like that?"
Back home outside Portage la Prairie, Weber now hopes that one of the authorities involved in his case will consider giving him a little leeway, and help him get his licence back.
Going to the media was a last resort, he said -- and a chance to warn others that even in the stress of a medical emergency, repercussions for speeding can be serious.
"What would have happened if something happened to my wife, or my baby?" Weber said. "Who would have been responsible then? It's like there's no compassion anymore."
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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