Len and Bev Carlson were hoping for their first good night’s sleep in nearly three years Tuesday.
Helping them were two guilty verdicts in connection with the death of their daughter, Kiera-Leigh, 22, on April 30, 2010.
Carlson was struck from behind shortly before 9 p.m. by a car driven by Chase Donaldson, 29, of Coldstream, as she walked to work along Aberdeen Road in Coldstream.
On Tuesday morning, Supreme Court Justice Frank Cole found Donaldson guilty of dangerous driving causing Carlson’s death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident.
Cole said that while Donaldson was shown by character witnesses during his 10-day trial to be a man of good character, “his credibility was destroyed” on the witness stand by Crown lawyer Iain Currie, and that Donaldson “fabricated his story” about rounding a corner on Aberdeen Road, seeing headlights coming at him, swerving left and accelerating to avoid a collision with the oncoming car, striking Carlson “in order to save his own skin.”
“The last two-and-a-half years have been horrible,” said Len Carlson, with Bev, to media gathered outside the courthouse Tuesday, a half-hour after the verdict was delivered. “Everybody is entitled to a defence but I think the defence should be based on fact and reality, not fabrication or anything you can do to avoid being held responsible.
“I have a real problem with that.”
So, too, did Justice Cole, who pointed out that Donaldson provided “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know” answers to Currie’s repeated questions about his speed, braking and gearing down going into the final corner on Aberdeen Road.
Cole said he was satisfied that Donaldson did not tell the truth about originally leaving the scene of the crime because he was alone and wanted his brother-in-law, who Cole said Donaldson had been racing along Aberdeen Road.
Cole said phone records proved that Donaldson did not tell the truth that he called his brother-in-law, that he did not call 911 and that he spent five minutes or less when he returned to the scene the second time.
It was revealed that Donaldson did call 911 but hung up on the operator.
Cole noted that Donaldson did not tell ICBC he had steered left to avoid oncoming headlights when he reported the accident, and that his wife did not tell a 911 operator or the RCMP about the alleged oncoming headlights coming in his lane of traffic.
“I am satisfied the accused’s wife did not tell RCMP or 911 because the accused never told her, “ said Cole. “And the accused never told her because it wasn’t true.”
Cole said Donaldson looked into his rearview mirror on two occasions while traveling along Aberdeen Road “in order to see how far ahead he was of his brother-in-law. He did this because he was racing and I am satisfied he was traveling at a greater speed than his brother-in-law”.
Cole said Donaldson was driving in excess of 90 km/hour. The posted speed limit along Aberdeen Road is 50 km/hour.
The judge stated the incident happened when Crown witnesses Dave and Beth Regehr turned their car off Highway 6 and reported lights coming at them or in their lane from a car coming at a high rate of speed. The Regehrs went left to avoid a collision with the oncoming vehicle.
Cole accepted their testimony despite inconsistencies in their accounts during the trial and statements they gave to the police.
On the count of failing to remain at the scene, Cole said he was satisfied that Donaldson did stop on at least five separate occasions, but never gave his name to anyone at the scene, nor did he offer assistance to Carlson.
“Based on the rate of speed and the impact of the vehicle on the deceased, he knew he had struck a person and that he or she was dead or dying on the side of the road,” said Cole. “He called 911 because he believed he had hit a person. And that’s the only rational reason he returned to the scene five times.
“He did not give any details to 911 but hung up because he did not want to accept responsibility for what he had done.”
Donaldson, dressed in a white shirt with light blue tie and grey jacket, showed little emotion curing Cole’s hour-long decision, though he did drop his head after being pronounced guilty.
His wife and parents were among seven people in the gallery supporting the accused as the verdict was read. Neither Donaldson, his family, nor his lawyers, Glenn Verdurmen and Paul Danyliu, spoke to the media after Cole’s decision.
The Carlson family was backed by close to 40 supporters, many wearing purple – Kiera-Leigh’s favourite colour – as they did throughout the trial.
“Wow,” said Len Carlson when asked about the support, fighting back tears. “It continued through the trial, today, back then. She has friends I didn’t know she had, and they’ve been by us ever since and continue to be there. It’s amazing she continues to be in their thoughts today. They’re amazing.”
Len Carlson said the verdict will help his family take another step in the grieving process, and when asked by a reporter if they think about the night their daughter was killed, Bev Carlson said “every day.”
“We dream about it,” she said.
Donaldson will be sentenced Friday at 10 a.m.